The hidden face behind a thick curtain of hair is the sole object of La Chevelure (Hair) by Henri-Edmond Cross. The model in this work was the artist’s future wife Irma, who also appeared in his first Pointillist work, Madame Hector France. Unlike that earlier portrait, Cross depicts not a bit of the model’s personality, her social status or stature. The tight framing around the woman’s torso seen in a three-quarter view reinforces the importance of the cascading wall of hair and ascribes monumental quality to it. You probably recall this deliberate cropping from the Japanese prints, so admired by Cross and other Neo-Impressionists. The composition is minimal not only in the simple muted contrast of foreground vs. background, but also in the palette which he reduced to soft browns, ochres and mauves, giving it almost a filtered, atmospheric quality.
Cross was an important member of the second wave of Divisionists – artists who continued to follow Georges Seurat’s color and light theories after his death. When he painted this work in 1892, the subject of a woman at her toilet had become popular among his contemporaries including Edgar Degas.
In fact, the father of Pointillism likewise addressed the subject in one of his late works – Young Woman Powdering Herself . In it Seurat portrays his mistress Madeleine Knobloch, the only painting to shed any light at all on the artist’s private life.
Henri-Edmond Cross was born in Douai on May 20, 1856 and grew up in Lille. His early works, portraits and still lifes, were in the dark colors of Realism, but after meeting with Claude Monet in 1883, he painted in the brighter colors of Impressionism. In 1884, Cross cofounded the Société des Artistes Indépendants and went on to become one of the principal exponents of Neo-Impressionism. He began his Pointillist period after spending time with Paul Signac in 1904. His later works are Fauvist, perhaps influenced by his acquaintance with Henri Matisse.
The painting is in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.
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