This is a day to honor the Swedish artist Anders Zorn as he was born today, February 18th, in 1860. Like those of you who saw the Anders Zorn exhibit, at the Palace of Legion of Honor in San Francisco this winter, I was blown away by the amazing skill he had with watercolors, his compositions and style and, again like you, wondered how have we not been aware of this genius with the brush?? Some say it’s because he painted scenes of women bathing – women who were too comfortable in their nakedness to be proper for the American taste.
That contradicts the popularity he achieved with the wealthy in New York painting portrait after portrait of prominent industrialists, financiers and their families, along with three presidents. He was quite the painter to sit for at that time.
Below is a painting of Clarence Johnson Barker, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, painted in watercolor in 1885. Barker is absorbed in contemplation of the picture of his girlfriend as his dog looks on. It’s said this could be titled “Rivals”!
I believe his lack of recognition these days is due to two things, one being that painting styles change and after he died in 1920 art had taken a different direction and his painting would have seemed quite out-of-date. Secondly, he was Swedish and was in the United States for a short time, and then only hobnobbing with the elite, afterwards retiring back to a farm in rural Sweden where he continued to paint country scenes that we, the general public here, may not have been aware of or interested in even though he continued to travel in Europe and win competitions. Now enough time has passed that we are eager to learn about this incredible artist. Anders Zorn was born in the countryside and began painting at a young age. By 15 he was accepted in the Swedish Academy of Fine Arts where his watercolors came to the attention of the King.
Zorn painted the portrait above when he was just twenty years old. These days he is mostly renowned for his astonishing abilities with watercolors. Below is a watercolor he did of his mother and sister. They are wearing the dress that was common in his region of Sweden.
He left the academy and his art flourished as he traveled. He then lived abroad in London and Paris. In these cities Zorn was decorated with honors and met prominent clients.
He was very prolific and versatile. He worked equally well with watercolor, oils and etching. The painting below is watercolor with India ink and is of the daughter of a painter-professor, at the art academy in Spain, and her cousin. He won his first international recognition with this painting at the Paris Salon of 1882. I like the informality of the pose and sense of fun, which contrasts our image of formal Victorians, and the casualness in the way he used his brush while still creating realism.
Producing nearly 300 etching, he drew many of them directly from life.
Anders Zorn met his fiancé when he was 21 but they had to wait 4 years, rarely seeing each other, before he became financially stable enough to marry. When he and Emma Lamm finally married she became active in his business as his manager and critic. They had a glamorous and loving life together. Even after they retired to the country they maintained a cosmopolitan lifestyle traveling and exhibiting. Emma died in 1942 and their estate was donated to the Swedish state. All of the information and pictures in this post are from the book “Anders Zorn, Sweden’s Master Painter”, for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Rizzoli, 2013, and the Fine Arts magazine put out by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2013, along with information I picked up while on tour of the exhibit. Thank you all for your attention to this article on a man I much admire. It would be a treat to hear from you about him or his work so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.