While Rosse’s art shows the influence of the German Expressionists and the visionary Italian Futurist architect, Antonio Sant’Elia (1888-1916), it also presages a Chicago aesthetic. It looks forward to the subversive illustrative art of the Hairy Who, the windowed cities of Roger Brown’s Imagist paintings, and even to the nostalgic, compartmented imagery of Chris Ware. Most importantly, however, Rosse’s imagery visualizes Hecht’s own colorful descriptions in 1,001 Afternoons in Chicago of the city’s built environment as “a merry-go-round of rooftops, skyscrapers bristling like cubistic bayonets…[and] buildings like black and white checkered pythons standing on their tails….”
Unsurprisingly, given the look of his art, the Dutch-born Rosse (1887-1965) was an architect, theatrical designer, and art director. Studying in Holland and London, he eventually earned his degree in architecture from Stanford University in California. In 1918 he became head of the design department at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute. He also took on private commissions for interiors, fabric designs, and book illustrations, and created sets for the stage in conjunction with Hecht, Kenneth Macgowan, and the Goodman Theater. It was at this time that Rosse produced the theater-inspired drawings for 1,001 Afternoons. Like Hecht, Rosse was lured to Hollywood, where he became an accomplished art director and set designer on films such as Dracula and The Emperor Jones. And like Hecht, he won an Academy Award (for the art direction in the 1930 King of Jazz). Like so much of Chicago modernism, Rosse’s illustrations for 1,001 Afternoons are both intensely specific to this city and were adaptable to the tastes and styles being realized in other metropolitan centers.
- Mark B. Pohlad, DePaul University