Tom Strini
One Piece at a Time

“Landscape (Garden at St. Tropez)”

By - Aug 17th, 2011 05:55 pm
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Henri Edmond Cross (French, 1856–1910) Landscape (Garden at St. Tropez), ca. 1900 Oil on canvas 10 x 25 in. (25.34 x 63.5 cm) Purchase, Marjorie Tiefenthaler Bequest and partial gift of Louise Uihlein Snell Fund of the Milwaukee Foundation M1996.29 Photo by Larry Sanders.

Up close, Henri Edmond Cross‘  Landscape (Garden at St. Tropez) reads almost like a color chart. Thousands of little dashes, each a distinct stroke, sit just so, one next to the other. Dash by dash, colors evolve one to the next in subtle gradation. Mostly it’s orderly, almost scientific, a lesson in saturation, hue and the impact of one color on another, standard Pointillist practice.

Cross’ salient point, however, lies in the exceptions to his orderly progressions. Note the splash of yellow in the foreground, in the lower left. Cross here represents the sun bursting through an opening in the canopy of limbs, and it turns the green ground cover miraculously yellow. This bit tells us how to read the heavenly sunlit blaze at the center of the painting, where the greenery of a distant trellis likewise turns sunshine yellow.

You can’t make this stuff up, as an artist. Surely, this transforming effect of the Mediterranean sun struck Cross and he sought to capture it. The genius of the piece is the way he cast the sunlight, which invades the scene from over the viewer’s left shoulder, as a visually disruptive force.

The garden, even a rustic cottage garden such as the one depicted here, is an orderly, man-made imposition on the world. Cross rendered it in an orderly, thoughtful, even meticulous way. The sun cuts through all that. The light (at the end of the tunnel of vegetation, so to speak) is so blinding that we must deduce a trellis from a few spare green leaves amid the riot of yellow. You can’t see it immediately, as Cross has captured sun blindness so perfectly.

Cross, painting here in about 1900, takes as givens the Impressionist ideas of vision as a fleeting thing and of nature constantly in motion.  His dashes, so calm and brainy up close, from a few feet away give the painting an indistinct, trembling quality. The leaves quiver on a summer breeze, and the very air vibrates with the heat.

Cross could have drawn sharp contrast between the natural forms of the plants and designed surfaces of the path, the wall at the right and the structures in the distance. Instead, he represents their stones with the same touch he applied to leaves. The built environment does not so much limit the garden as extend it. The stone surfaces, too, quiver with the energy of sun and wind.

On the small scale, this painting is a sober examination of color theory. On the large scale, it has a big psychological effect. It conjures up the garden and all its sensations and associations. The intensely beautiful painting puts us in that garden in full sun and full bloom.

It’s a lovely luxury to see it. In February, I think Landscape (Garden at St. Tropez) will be a necessity.

This is another installment in TCD’s ongoing One Piece at a Time series, focusing on the permanent collections at the Milwaukee Art Museum and other area museums.


Categories: A/C Feature 3, Art

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