Sunday, December 15, 2013

Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco present Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter, November 9, 2013–February 2, 2014, bringing together one hundred of the artist’s oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, and sculptures. Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860–1920) was one of the world’s most famous living artists at the turn of the twentieth century, known for his virtuoso painting and printmaking techniques. Although he was a hugely successful portrait painter in this country—depicting captains of industry, members of high society, and three U.S. Presidents—there has been only one other major American retrospective in the last century examining Zorn’s work.

During the 1880s and 1890s Zorn lived in London and Paris, where he became acquainted with key figures of the Belle Époque, including James McNeill Whistler, John Singer Sargent, and Auguste Rodin, as well as many of the French Impressionists. Zorn was described by a contemporary in Paris as “at home here, as he was everywhere, just like a fish in water.” Ambitious and entrepreneurial, he used his connections to gain commissions and befriend prominent collectors such as Isabella Stewart Gardner, who would become an important patron. Zorn’s painting,

Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice (1894, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston)

appears in this exhibition.

Altogether, Zorn made seven trips to the United States, where he was in great demand as a painter of society portraits. Like his friendly rival John Singer Sargent, Zorn portrayed many of the most significant figures of the Gilded Age, including the industrialist Andrew Carnegie and President William Taft, in a portrait that still hangs in the White House today. A noted bon vivant, Zorn traveled throughout the country, visiting San Francisco during the winter of 1903–1904, where he declared the nightlife “particularly appealing from a male point of view.”

Trained at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, where his watercolors brought him to the attention of King Oscar II, Zorn would remain closely tied to his native country throughout his career. In 1896 Zorn moved back to his hometown of Mora, where he painted scenes of the Swedish countryside and subjects that celebrated the country’s folk culture. One such work in this exhibition,

Midsummer Dance (1897, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm),

has long been considered one of Sweden’s national treasures, and it rarely leaves the country.

Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter reintroduces to American audiences an important artist who is less well known in this country than he once was. Loans from the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; the Zornmuseet, Mora; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC; the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; and many other public and private collections provide a comprehensive view of this vibrant artistic personality.

Exhibition Organization

This exhibition is organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Zornmuseet in association with the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.

Exhibition Catalogue

The richly illustrated catalogue of the same title explores the life and work of a masterful painter who was born in a small Swedish village and rose to international acclaim. Four authors present a detailed portrait of Zorn’s life and work, his career in the United States, his oeuvre in the context of Nordic art, and his printmaking activity. Also featuring a comprehensive chronology and historical photographs, this book reveals a painter traditional yet modern; cosmopolitan yet indelibly connected.

From an excellent review: (Some images added)
Zorn watercolors such as

"Lapping Waves" (1887),

"In the Port of Hamburg" (1890)

and even the brisk, tiny "Sea Study" (1894)display his prodigious ability to render transient sensations and unify light effects across a page. He clearly kept rivalrous eyes on what his Impressionist contemporaries were doing.

Things got more complicated and intriguing whenever Zorn turned his attention to portrait and anecdotal subjects.

"Castles in the Air" (1885), a dreamy watercolor of (his wife) Emma with sunlight filtering through the open parasol over her shoulder, shows how Zorn's focus on fidelity to a face could unbalance his attention to a figure's other proportions.

With "The Thorn Bush" (1886),

a deftly worked watercolor of two women possibly on a forest picnic, a note of erotic mischief surfaces.

The woman walking in the foreground pauses as she finds a spiky branch snagging and lifting her skirt. That branch, of course, is a Zorn brushstroke.

The subtext of erotic preoccupation rises and submerges again throughout the exhibition, culminating in Zorn's late photographs and drawings of giggling nude models descending into the cabin of his yacht.

More images from the exhibition:

Anders Zorn, Self-Portrait in Red, 1915. Oil on canvas. Zornmuseet, Mora. Photograph by Patric Evinger.

Anders Zorn, Reveil, Boulevard Clichy, 1892. Watercolor. Private Collection. Photo courtesy Bukowskis, Stockholm

Anders Zorn, Midsummer Dance, 1897. Oil on canvas, 55 1/8 x 38 9/16 in. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Photo © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Anders Zorn, The Little Brewery, 1890. Oil on canvas, 18 _ x 30 11/16 in. Nationalmuseum, Stockholm. Photo © Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

Anders Zorn, River under Old Stone Bridge, 1884. Watercolor. Zornmuseet, Mora. Photograph by Lars Berglund