If one accepts Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s statement that ”verticality is the trace of purity against curves and lying figures ”, this wonderful and unique watercolour by Gustave Adolf Mossa is a true icon of purity. The church, the Christ and Virgin Mary stay erected, each one occupying its own place with a different aim. The mother of Jesus, unusually closed in herself in a black dress, derives from Flemish Painters rather than from Italian models. Rogier van der Weyden’s Mater Dolorosa at the Groeningemuseum is the closest reference, offering the same expressive features: shut mouth and hopeless eyes.
Christ is represented more like a hero than like a martyr, while the church is referring to a personal experience lived by the artist, who was injured in front of the Halle of Ypres in Belgium in November 18th 1914. Moreover, the German soldiers allude both to the crucifixion and to the Great War. This way the work assumes a double meaning, religious and civil, and the symbolism of the femme fatale, traditionally associated to the artist, is not present here. Gothic arrows marry the shape of immense flames, and the Christ on the cross is both a being of flesh and blood, nearly a sculpture that miraculously presents the stigmata of the Passion. There is another version of the same Christ de Passion, also on paper, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nice , where the Christ is in the same position while the Virgin is watching towards the soldiers with her hands clasped.
Gustav-Adolf Mossa, native of Nice, gained his reputation very late among specialists of symbolism. His symbolist watercolours – from 1904 – first received a warm reception in Georges Petit’s gallery in April 1911. However, after the first World War and when he started to be estimated as a precursor of Surrealism, Mossa himself obscured his symbolist work which was consequently not rediscovered before the end of 1970’s . Mossa didn’t travel a lot but two travels signed his art: the 1902 trip to Italy, after which he started signing his works GUSTAV ADOLF MOSSA/NICIENCIS PINXIT in a cartiglio followed by the year of the execution, and the one in Belgium in 1911, an experience that contributed to his analytic manner, as showed by Stabat Mater Dolorosa, where the thinness of the strokes is astonishing.