Cross: Portraits of a Friend

Henri Edmond CROSS (1856-1910)
A.  Double Portrait of Maximlien Luce Reading a Newspaper
B.  Maximilien Luce Drawing


A.  Conté crayon on thin wove paper, c. 1890.
Sheet size: 5 ¾ x 7 ½ inches.
B.  Ink drawing with pencil on laid paper, c. 1905.
With an additional pencil sketch on the verso.
Sheet size: 6 ½ x 4 ¼ inches.

Bearing the red circled HEC monogram, lower right quadrant (Lugt 1305a).
Provenance:
Sale of the “Atelier Henri-Edmond Cross 1856-1910”, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, October 27, 1921, lot 81.
Galerie Bernheim-Jeune (likely exhibited April 10-30, 1937), Paris.
Private collection, New York.

Henri Edmond Cross, Maximilien Luce, Paul Signac, Théo Van Rysselberghe, and a few other artists, were members of a group of painters, founded under the name Néo-Impressionistes by Georges Seurat.  They began exhibiting in 1886 at the Salon des Indépendents and continued to do so.  As of 1893 they also organized their own exhibits at 20 rue Laffitte, an address known to have housed all manner of artistic exhibits.  It is in this context that Henri Edmond Cross and Maximilien Luce became friends; friendly enough for Luce to paint a major portrait of Cross in 1898, now housed by the Musée d’Orsay.


Both painters remained lifelong friends, until the untimely demise of Cross, who died of cancer days shy of his 54th birthday.  Both artists also were part of the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune stable of artists; their work likely collected by the same patrons.

Both of our sheets bear the number 81 penciled on the verso.  This refers to the lot number in the atelier sale (see provenance above), which was conducted by Josse and Gaston Bernheim-Jeune.  Evidently the gallery acquired many of the lots they were tasked to sell, including our drawings.  The Bernheim-Jeune had worked with Cross as well as Luce over the years, and surely knew these men well.  It was thus obvious to them that these two drawings belonged together despite their apparent diversity.  They would immediately have recognized the sitter in both compositions to be Maximilien Luce, even though the two sheets were drawn about 15 years apart.

The Double Portrait dates to circa 1890, around the same time as Paul Signac’s portraits of Luce .

 


As a matter of fact our portrait and Signac’s are so similar, Luce even wearing the same coat in both, that one can assume they were drawn simultaneously.  While Luce painted many portraits, few portraits of him remain (aside from his own self-portraits).  Signac’s was a preparatory drawing for an illustration in La Révolte (1891), a precursor to Les Temps Nouveaux, to which Luce was an active contributor.  Luce may have agreed to sit for both friends because of this connection to a publication (and the anarchist cause) in which he believed.  Signac drew profiles tending towards the statuesque.  This was appropriate given the intended purpose of the image as an official portrait.  Cross however, drew his friend in a far more intimate fashion.  The face is clearly recognizable.  Using just a few strokes, Cross shows his familiarity with the sitter.  Instead of idealizing his subject, as Signac did, the unkempt hair locks, bushy beard, warm coat and inquisitive glasses, all contribute to the effect of affection.  Luce reads quietly, unaffected by the presence of the artist nearby.  Cross brings across how comfortable the friends were in each other’s presence.  The closeness of their bond is palpable in this drawing.

The second sheet was drafted much later, probably circa 1905, at a time when Luce was known to have sported an explorer’s hat when working outside.


Here again Cross draws his friend twice, first focusing on the torso, then on his activity.  The top part of this drawing, with the recognizable hat, was drawn first.  Under the ink, a base sketch in pencil can be detected.  This suggests an incremental approach to building his composition.  After finishing this bust, Cross decided to forge ahead and sketched the lower part of Luce’s torso, seated on a chair.  This part of the drawing is ambiguous.  The back of the chair suggests the sitter to be turned away from us; though it could also be facing us.  The right arm of Luce can be seen drawing, resting on two parallel diagonal lines, representing the painter’s drawing surface.  Surprisingly, the lines below this section of the drawing seem to indicate a leg, turned towards us.  To the right, what can be construed to be an open writing bureau is suggested.  These disparate elements don’t add up to a coherent composition.  Cross clearly used a moment of Luce’s concentration on his own work to steal a few glances at his friend.  There was likely no premeditated thought as to the finality of this sketch.  Quickly Cross drew a few ideas, based on what he saw.  While he may have drawn with the thought of elaborating the composition later, it is far more likely that Cross was simply putting down what was flashing through his mind at the time. The verso of this second sheet is also of interest.  Cross turned over this drawing and used the translucency of its support to add some detail to the head of Luce.  He made use of the blank space to the left of the ink drawing on the recto, thus bumping into the edge of the sheet, and running out of space to further elaborate his composition.


 


Our two drawings are possibly the only surviving testimony of the artistic kinship Henri Cross felt for Maximilien Luce.

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