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Francis Criss papers, 1916-1975, bulk 1940-1969

Francis Criss papers, 1916-1975, bulk 1940-1969

Criss, Francis, 1901-1973

Painter

Collection Information

Size: 1.9 linear feet

Summary: Correspondence, handwritten notes for class lectures, exhibition files, newsclippings, scrapbooks, and photographs. Oversized reproductions of his commercial artwork are also found.

200 letters; biographical material; photographs of Criss, U.S. Army Medical Corps, and other paintings; teaching notes; catalogs, exhibition lists and other exhibition material.

Correspondence; teaching notes; sketches; photographs of Criss; his family, his students, and his work, catalogs and announcements; clippings; and 3 scrapbooks.

Biographical/Historical Note

Francis Criss (1901-1973) was a painter and teacher in New York, N.Y. Criss studied at the Graphic Sketch Club, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Barnes Foundation, the Art Students League in New York, and, later, with private instruction under Jan Matulka. Criss received the Cresson scholarship from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1920, which allowed him to further his studies in Europe. In 1934, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Italy. Criss was involved with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the American Artists' Congress, which he helped to organize in 1936. He was also a charter member of the "American Group" with artists that included Philip Evergood, Julian Levy, Jack Levine, William Gropper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, the Soyers, Chaim Gross, and Abraham Rattner. Criss taught painting privately and at the Knox-Albright Museum, Brooklyn Museum Art School, The Art Students League, the New School, and the School of Visual Arts.

Provenance

Material on reel N70-34 was lent 1970 for microfilming by Francis Criss. Portions of the 1970 loan and unmicrofilmed material were donated 1976 by Katherine Criss Capello.

Location of Originals

  • Reel N70-34: Originals returned to Francis Criss after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Francis Criss Papers,
1916-1975
(bulk 1940-1969)
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.crisfran
Biographical Note
Modernist painter Francis Criss was born in London in 1901 to a Jewish family of Russian descent. At the age of three, his family moved to the United States and settled in Philadelphia. Criss began his art training nine years later at the Graphic Sketch Club and continued his studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Barnes Foundation, the Art Students League in New York, and, later, with private instruction under Jan Matulka. In 1920, Criss was awarded the prestigious Cresson scholarship by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts which allowed him to further his studies in Europe. Around 1931, he began to exhibit paintings in a style that came to define his work -- clean lines, simple forms, and flat color of cityscapes and portraits. Criss' first public success as an artist was his inclusion in the inaugural 1932 Whitney Biennial Exhibition; the museum purchased his painting, Astor Place (1932) for its permanent collection. In 1934, Criss was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Italy.
Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, Criss was involved with the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the American Artists' Congress, which he helped to organize in 1936. He was also a charter member of the "American Group" with artists that included Philip Evergood, Julian Levy, Jack Levine, William Gropper, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, the Soyers, Chaim Gross, and Abraham Rattner. Critics described his work as both Surrealist and Precisionist and it is often compared to that of Giorgio De Chirico, George Ault, Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler.
Criss' career began to wane in the 1940s when he turned his attention to commercial art and teaching in order to support his family. Criss taught painting privately and at the Knox-Albright Museum, Brooklyn Museum Art School, The Art Students League, the New School, and the School of Visual Arts. He rarely returned to his own painting during the remainder of his life. Criss died at the age of 72 in 1973.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged in two parts. Part 1 represents the papers originally microfilmed as a loan in 1970 on reel N70-34. Part 2 is comprised of the 1976 gift.
Researchers should note that many of the papers filmed as a loan on Reel N70-34 in 1970 were also donated in their original form as part of the 1976 gift. However, certain documents may only be found on the microfilm. For this reason, the Archives maintained and arranged the collection in two separate parts. Part 1 represents the papers originally microfilmed as a loan in 1970 on reel N70-34. Part 2 is comprised of the 1976 gift. The arrangement of the first part of the collection reflects the original order of filming of the loan, with original documents found only on microfilm noted as See or See Also References. The remaining materials donated in 1976 have been arranged into series according to type of material.
Part 1: Papers filmed as a loan on Reel N70-34, 1916-1969 (Box 1, Reel N70-34, 0.4 linear feet)
Part 2: 1976 Gift, 1935-1975, undated (Boxes 2-6, 1.5 linear feet)
Provenance
Material on reel N70-34 was lent 1970 for microfilming by Francis Criss. Portions of the 1970 loan and unmicrofilmed material were donated 1976 by Katherine Criss Capello.
Location of Originals
  • Reel N70-34: Originals returned to Francis Criss after microfilming.
Processing Information
The 1976 unfilmed gift was processed by Rosa Fernandez in 2003.

Additional Forms Available

Microfilm reel N70-34 available at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Francis Criss papers, 1916-1975, bulk 1940-1969. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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