The only surviving child of Alcide Delacroix, a French adventurer and failed businessman, and the British-born Fanny Woollett, he was encouraged as a youth to develop his artistic talent by his father’s cousin, Dr Auguste Soins. He enrolled in 1878 at the Ecoles Académiques de Dessin et d’Architecture in Lille, where he remained for three years under the guidance of Alphonse Colas (1818–87). He then moved to Paris and studied with Emile Dupont-Zipcy (1822–65), also from Douai, whom he listed as his teacher when exhibiting at Salons of the early 1880s. His few extant works from this period are Realist portraits and still-lifes, painted with a heavy touch and sombre palette (example in Douai, Musée Municipal)
To avoid working under the shadow of his celebrated namesake, Eugène Delacroix, in 1881 he adopted an abbreviated English version of his surname, signing his works ‘Henri Cross’ until around 1886, when he adopted ‘Henri Edmond Cross’ to avoid being confused with the painter Henri Cros.
In 1884 Cross helped to found the Société des Artistes Indépendants and through it became friends with many of the Neo-Impressionists. However, he only gradually assimilated avant-garde stylistic innovations. He lightened his palette and began painting figures en plein air in the mid-1880s. Monaco (1884; Douai, Mus. Mun.) reveals his study of both Jules Bastien-Lepage and Manet. Towards the end of the decade, when he was increasingly influenced by Monet and Pissarro, he began to paint pure landscapes.
Cross’s career took a decisive turn in 1891, when he adopted the Neo-Impressionist technique and showed at the Indépendants exhibition his first large work in this style, the portrait of Mme H. F. (now titled portrait of Mme Cross; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay). Also in this year, he moved to the south of France, staying first at Cabasson and then settling in Saint-Clair, a small hamlet near St Tropez where Signac also took up residence in 1892. Cross lived in Saint-Clair for the rest of his life, travelling twice to Italy (1903 and 1908) and annually to Paris for the Indépendants shows.
In the early and mid-1890s, as he developed the Neo-Impressionist method, Cross concentrated on seascapes and scenes of peasants at work. The Beach of Baigne-Cul (1891–2; Chicago, IL, A. Inst.) is characteristic of his highly regular technique: over a densely painted ground he placed small and relatively round touches in rows, more or less equally spaced, and mixed colours with white to express the bleaching action of sunlight. The Farm (Evening) (1893; priv. col., see Compin, p. 129) exhibits his decorative use of sensuous silhouettes and recalls the Japanese prints and Art Nouveau designs that inspired other Neo-Impressionists at this time.
After the mid-1890s Cross ceased to depict peasants but continued to paint seascapes while exploring such new subjects as the everyday dances shown in Village Dance (1896; Toledo, OH, Mus. A.). Working with his neighbour Signac, he gradually abandoned the dot of earlier Neo-Impressionism and employed instead large and blocky strokes; this technique allowed for intense color contrasts and created decisively decorative, mosaic-like surfaces. Now associated with the so-called ‘second’ Neo-Impressionist style, these developments inspired Matisse and the other Fauves who visited the south of France in the early 1900s. Also influential on these painters were the nude bathers and mythological figures, particularly the nymphs and fauns, which Cross introduced into his late seascapes.
Cross shared the utopian and anarchist beliefs of many of the Neo-Impressionists. In 1896 he contributed an anonymous lithograph entitled The Wanderer (see Compin, p. 337) to Jean Grave’s anarchist publication, Temps nouveaux. Later he created cover illustrations for several brochures issued by the same journal. Interpretations of Cross’s large painting, the Air of Evening (1893–4; Paris, Mus. d’Orsay), have stressed the presence of anarchist-inspired sentiments. Like Signac’s In the Time of Harmony (Montreuil, Mairie) from the same period, Cross’s depiction of languorous seaside leisure seems designed to suggest the joy that would be unleashed by anarchy.
The comparatively small size of Cross’s oeuvre can be partly attributed to his ill health. Eye problems, which emerged in the early 1880s, worsened in the early 1900s, and bouts of arthritis also kept him from working. Nonetheless, during the last decade of his life he mounted important one-man shows in Paris (Galerie Druet, 1905; Bernheim-Jeune, 1907) and as a result began finally to find a market and enthusiastic critical response.