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.
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
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.
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
--John and Ann