The American Van Gogh

Creek at Moonrise by Birger Sandzén, ca. 1921, oil painting.
Creek at Moonrise by Birger Sandzén, ca. 1921, oil painting.

The Life and Art of Birger Sandzén

We’ve written before about the unexpected sign at Exit 222 on Interstate 80 in Nebraska announcing the Robert Henri Museum on The Artist’s Road.  It turns out that the Robert Henri who learned how to paint in France, taught in New York and wrote the classic book The Art Spirit, was originally from the small town of Cozad, Nebraska.

There is another surprising sign that has become familiar to travelers crossing Kansas on Interstate 70 which announces, “We buy Birger Sandzén Paintings.” This is truly a sign of the increasing appreciation and interest in the Swedish artist’s work by knowledgeable art collectors.

Paintings by Birger Sandzén have broken records at auction (a sale of a 60 x 80″ canvas in 2011 topped $600,000). Sandzén (1871 – 1954) studied art and how to paint in Stockholm under Anders Zorn and in Paris under Edmond François Aman-Jean. It was Aman-Jean who introduced him to pointillism and the work of Aman-Jean’s friend Georges Seurat.

In 1894, he was hired by Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas, initially to teach Swedish, German, French, art and vocal music. By 1911, he was working solidly in the pointillist manner; and by 1913, he had developed methods of how to paint in his own expressionist style. He eventually became the chairman of the Department of Art at Bethany and his tenure extended until his retirement in 1946 at age 75. He lived in Kansas for the rest of his life.

Birger Sandzén with his work.
Birger Sandzén with his work.

Although Sandzén was granted honorary doctorates from several universities and was in demand as a guest artist across the country, he remained loyal to Bethany College.

Today his works are included in collections at the National Museum of Stockholm, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Chicago Art Institute, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Library of Congress and many other national museums.

Bethany College honors the legacy of this prolific and talented artist with the preservation of his studio and the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery. During his lifetime Sandzén completed in excess of 2,600 oil paintings and 500 watercolors. He created 207 lithographs, 94 block prints and 27 drypoints. When the editions are totaled, they amount to over 33,000 prints.

His Colorful Technique

Birger Sandzén | Sunset | Painting | American van Gogh | Artist Daily
Sunset – McPherson County, Kansas, by Birger Sandzén, oil on panel

Dubbed the “American van Gogh”, Sandzén’s painting techniques involved a vigorous brushstroke with pure, broken colors intended to blend together when seen from a distance. He developed his own form of the impressionist’s techniques to suit his personal expression.

He wrote, “I feel that one should be guided in both composition and use of color by the character of the landscape . . .  One should  . . .  first of all, emphasize the rhythm and then sum up the color impression in a few large strokes. In other words: A severe decorative treatment is best adapted for this purpose.

“However, it should not be understood that color is less significant. No, not at all. The color arrangement, however simple it may be, should support and enforce the lines. A false arrangement of color may completely destroy the rhythm. . . . One must then use pure colors which refract each other, but which through distance assimilate for the eye—the so-called ‘optical’ blending—since the usual blending on the palette, the ‘pigmented blending,’ is not intensive enough and does not ‘vibrate.'”

For more on Birger Sandzén, visit the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery website, or better yet, take a trip across the magnificent Flint Hills of Kansas on I-70 and visit the actual gallery.

Join us on The Artist’s Road for more enlightening articles, interviews with artists, step-by-step painting demonstrations and discounts in the Artist’s Road Store.

–John and Ann




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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.

3 thoughts on “The American Van Gogh

  1. 2000 I was dubbed the American Van Gogh by and recognized around the world, art history, TV interviews, art magazines, etc. If you go to and click on page Impact of Art, a page is devoted to me, explaining my style how we are different and similar.