Francis Criss

American, 1901–1973

Theodore Roosevelt Memorial under Construction, 1932

Oil on board

12 x 16 inches

Signed and dated lower right

Born in London, Criss immigrated with his family to the United States in 1904. While recuperating from polio as a young boy in Philadelphia, Criss discovered he had a talent for drawing. After attending the Graphic Sketch Club and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he was awarded a Cresson scholarship, allowing him to study in Europe. In 1926 Criss moved to New York and enrolled in the Art Students League. In 1930 he was included in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s first biennial exhibition. Soon thereafter his New York scenes were the subject of his first solo shows at the Contemporary Arts Gallery in New York and the Mellon Galleries in Philadelphia.

The cityscape was a pervasive subject in Criss’ oeuvre. He viewed the urban landscape as an ordered, immaculate world devoid of any extraneous detail. In Theodore Roosevelt Memorial under Construction, Criss captures a moment in the evolution of the addition to the American Museum of Natural History; the memorial was commissioned in 1924 but not completed until 1936. The precise articulation of the shapes of the buildings, the sharply delineated cranes, and the pictorial domination of the unfinished white Beaux-Arts memorial creates an air of unreality. Criss sparks a tension between the sense of the real and fantasy in the painting with his pristine depiction of construction and his unexpected use of bright, unmodulated colors.