The Lure Of The Sea

In 1891, Henri-Edmond Cross, a founding member of the Indépendants who had also embraced Neo-Impressionism, relocated permanently from Paris to the south of France, to the Alpes-Maritimes above the Mediterranean coast. It was a decisive move both for Cross and Neo-Impressionism: this light-filled landscape between the sea and the lower slopes of the Alpes was both subject and inspiration for his own art and a lure for his fellow artists and friends, Paul Signac, Maximilien Luce and Théo Van Rysselberghe. It was these Neo-Impressionists who were to make the Mediterranean, with its saturated light and serene expanses of sea and coast, a compelling motif for generations to follow.

The calm spaces and unspoiled, often untamed landscape of the hinterland behind the coast of what was to become the Riviera provided a readymade idyllic world away from the harsh life of an increasingly industrialized northern France, arguably embodying the anarchist ideal of natural order and harmony. Saint-Tropez itself was little more than a fishing village when the passionate sailor Signac found safe harbour there for his boats and he and Luce began to paint its gentle contours and radiant light. Seurat's sublime seascapes were inspirational for Neo-Impressionism. Both sea and coast presented clear compositional devices that served the movement's concerns with the role of line in establishing the 'emotion' within a painting – yet, beyond all else, the radiant light of the Côte d'Azur was clearly a Neo-Impressionist dream and the ultimate motif with which to accommodate the science of optical and prismatic colour.


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