A Finding Aid to the Francis Criss Papers,
1916-1975
(bulk 1940-1969)
, in the Archives of American Art

Summary
Collection ID:
AAA.crisfran
Creators:
Criss, Francis, 1901-1973
Dates:
1916-1975
bulk 1940-1969
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
1.9 Linear feet
Repository:
The Francis Criss papers comprise 1.9 linear feet of material dating from 1916 to 1975 (bulk 1940-1969). The collection documents the painting and teaching career of modernist painter Francis Criss mainly through correspondence, handwritten notes for class lectures, exhibition files, newsclippings, scrapbooks, and photographs. Oversized reproductions of his commercial artwork are also found.

Scope and Content Note
Scope and Content Note
The Francis Criss papers comprise 1.9 linear feet of material dating from 1916 to 1975 (bulk 1940-1969). The collection documents the painting and teaching career of modernist painter Francis Criss mainly through correspondence, handwritten notes for class lectures, exhibition files, newsclippings, scrapbooks, and photographs. Oversized reproductions of his commercial artwork are also found.
The collection is divided into two separate parts. The first represents the papers originally microfilmed as a loan in 1970 that includes biographical information; teaching and lecture notes compiled by Criss for courses he taught at several New York art schools, including the New School and the School of Visual Arts. Also found is correspondence with museums and magazines, Cornell University, the Henry McCarter Estate, and Theodore L. Shaw; exhibition announcements and catalogs; exhibition files and photographs for the Philadelphia Art Alliance exhibition in 1953 and the Visual Arts Gallery Retrospective in 1966; a record of paintings, murals, and projects; clippings; personal photographs and photographs of works of art.
The second part of the collection represents the portion of the 1976 gift that was not microfilmed in 1970. Found is business and personal correspondence with arts organizations, colleagues, former students, and fellow artists. Also included within this accession are Criss' handwritten notes and syllabi for courses he taught and printed material, such as exhibition announcements, invitations, and catalogs. Photographs are of Criss, his studio, several family members, and photographs of artwork Criss produced between 1935-1964, including those for the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
Also found are three dismantled scrapbooks. Scrapbook #1 documents Criss' later career as a commercial artist in New York City, primarily in the 1940s, a decade in which he experienced his greatest success. This scrapbook contains a series of large scale reproductions of his illustrations. Scrapbooks #2 and #3 also include examples of Criss' commercial work, as well as illustrations by other artists, and Criss' handwritten notes and instructions on drawing and painting techniques. A small series of miscellany includes several ledger pages detailing art supply expenses, a small unidentified collage, a copy of a 1957 appraisal report titled The Role of the School of Visual Arts, and other miscellaneous items.

Arrangement
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)

Biographical Note
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.

Administration
Alternative Forms Available
Portions of this collection are availalbe on 35 mm microfilm reel N70-34 at the Archives of American Art Offices and through interlibrary loan.
Processing Information
The 1976 unfilmed gift was processed by Rosa Fernandez in 2003.
Separated Materials
The Archives of American Art also holds microfilm of material lent for microfilming (reel N70-34) including notes, exhibition material, photographs of works of art, clippings and a scrapbook. Lent material was returned to the lender and is described as series 1 of the collection container inventory.
Author
Rosa Fernandez
Provenance
In 1970, Francis Criss loaned portions of his papers to the Archives of American Art for microfilming. In 1976, Criss' daughter, Katherine Criss Cappello, donated most of the previously microfilmed materials with additional papers to the Archives.

Using the Collection
Restrictions on Access
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington, D.C. research facility.
Ownership and Literary Rights
The Francis Criss papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.
Preferred Citation
Francis Criss papers, 1916-1975 (bulk 1940-1969). Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Painters -- New York (State) -- New York Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Commercial art -- 1940-1950 Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Technique Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Modernism (Art) Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Art -- Study and teaching Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scrapbooks Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs Type Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
United States. Works Progress Administration Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
New School for Social Research (New York, N.Y.) -- Faculty Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives of American Art
750 9th Street, NW
Victor Building, Suite 2200
Washington, D.C. 20001
https://www.aaa.si.edu/services/questions
https://www.aaa.si.edu/