Zorn and Sargent

If you haven't had an opportunity to see the works of Anders Zorn in person, you might want to get a copy of the exhibition catalog for a show of his work at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. The book,  Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter is a treasured addition to our art reference library.

Zorn was both a friend and friendly competitor of John Singer Sargent, and they both vied for portrait painting commissions in the same high-society circles of the day. Reading about their parallel working lives, one is struck by the notion that they seem to have been motivated to out-do each other in their creative efforts in painting.  

Portrait of Mrs. Bacon by Anders Zorn, 1897, oil painting.
Portrait of Mrs. Bacon by Anders Zorn, 1897, oil painting.

Zorn recalled a conversation he had in 1897 with the railroad tycoon Edward Rathbone Bacon:  "He said he wanted me to paint his sister-in-law (Virginia Purdy Bacon) better than Sargent had painted her for George Vanderbilt." Mr. Bacon didn't know that Zorn had already painted her once, in Paris. "And Mrs. Bacon told me about my first portrait that when Sargent was going to paint her, he asked to see my work, but had been refused and only been allowed to see it when he had finished his, whereupon he ran a poker through his canvas. So she had to sit for another one."

They both admired and emulated the portrait painting techniques of Velasquez, and in the words of artist Axel Reinhold Lindholm: "It is no paradox when I say that when Zorn painted carefully, he painted quickly. Each brushstroke was precisely calculated before being executed. First the hand described the motion in the air, and then the stroke was performed with style and confidence. Despite alterations caused by the model's movements, Zorn never painted anything haphazardly."

Like Sargent, Zorn was remarkably gifted at an early age, excelling in watercolors before he turned his hands to oil painting. He was able to deftly reproduce in oil the lush and loosely stroked brushwork that eventually made his watercolors famous. Beyond the technical aspects of craft, it was Zorn's brilliant and discerning vision coupled with his ability to state something universally understood about the human condition in his work that makes it so appealing even today.

Reveil by Anders Zorn, 1892, watercolor painting.
Reveil by Anders Zorn, 1892, watercolor painting.

Zorn became well known in Paris and London before making his mark in the United States. In 1893 he traveled to the U.S. as the superintendent of the Swedish Exposition at the Chicago World's Fair, an exposition that introduced to America the best of Swedish art, 151 pieces in all, including numerous paintings by Zorn. He used the opportunity of this lengthy stay to garner portraiture commissions and build his reputation among the elite of the Gilded Age, including with portraits of Presidents Cleveland and Taft. It was at the World's Fair that he met and subsequently became a friend of Isabella Stewart Gardner, who also collected Sargent's work. During our recent trip to Boston, we made a point of visiting her home again, now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, to see her collection of Zorn and Sargent paintings. Zorn's 1894 portrait of Mrs. Gardner in Venice is stunning for its spontaneous pose and remarkable lighting. She appears to have been caught in a single moment as she spun around to exclaim about the fireworks outside the window.

Join us on The Artist's Road for more interesting and informative articles.

–John and Ann

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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.

6 thoughts on “Zorn and Sargent

  1. Oh. My. Gosh! I’ve loved Sargent since art school in the early 80s (wedding gift from my husband: JSS coffee table book!), but didn’t know about Zorn. Thanks for giving me a new artist to admire and study!