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Two Women by the Shore

Muni's picture

Henri Edmond Cross 1856-1910, Two Women by the Shore, Mediterranean 1896 Oil on Canvas

Perhaps missing the ocean drew me to Two Women by the Shore, by French artist Henri Edmond Cross. The painting is set on what looks like a cliff, with a bright turquoise ocean and pale purple sky as a background. There are blues and purples in the shadows, and yellows and pinks to accent the highlights, with some red, green, and orange mid tones. It is late morning or early afternoon; the colors are bright but the shadows are long. The horizon line is barely visible, and the ocean reflects the slightly purple clouds as if the sky and sea are one. The scrubby brush and deciduous trees remind me of the chaparral of California, but the shockingly saturated colors and lack of wind or fog in the painting suggest a more equatorial zone. Looking closer, I try and figure out what’s going on to draw me into the painting. 

Two Women by the Shore is in a style similar to pointillism, made up only of oval shaped “dots.” Because the dots aren’t perfectly round, Cross is able to vary the angles to give more dimension to the painting, and to differentiate separate layers from one another. Upon looking at the painting, I am immediately drawn to its subjects, two women in the shadows on the lower righthand side of the painting. On the lefthand side of the painting, not much ocean is visible, but on the righthand side, the ocean and sky take up the top half, while the lower half is on land, and darkened by shadow. My attention focuses on the sharp contrast between land and sea, light and shadow, then is pulled in closer by the fine details and increased contrast on the two girls. On the left, a girl in a pink dress sits, looking upwards at a girl facing three quarters away from us in a blue dress. Pink dress appears to be focused in her body language, leaning forward intently with her line of sight on the other girl’s face. Blue dress is not looking at her companion, but appears to be watching a boat on the clear blue water, almost invisible but for some yellow light hitting its sail. 

As someone who enjoys drawing and painting, I can’t help but to come back to Cross’s use of color. It reminds me of those old style prints made up of dots. When you look at the painting from far away, you get the impression of a single color, but up close there are dots of many different colors combining to look smooth and consistent. I see the maroon and indigo in the shadows, the pink and yellow dirt, but backing away can see that the different tones blur to look like an almost realistic palette. Yet the texture of the dots is still tangible, adding shape to the foliage and the dresses of the women. And because the “dots” aren’t dots at all, but ovals, some of the hues of the individual colors are preserved, adding to the warm, whimsical feel of the painting. 

The small pieces of color arranged by Cross combine to make a whole scene that is captivating, much like many of the mosaics we’ve looked at throughout this course. The “broken-ness” of his painting differentiates it from most of the smooth brushstrokes of its  wall-mates.


Muni's picture

Also, as I sat there taking

Also, as I sat there taking notes, I wanted to sketch the painting. A security guard came up to me and told me that I was allowed to take notes but not sketch anything for copyright reasons, so I erased it. Just seemed worth mentioning, it was very odd.