Saturday, April 29, 2006

Anders Zorn

Anders Zorn
As an art student, with an art student’s typical financial state, I used to haunt the used bookstores in and around Philadelphia, looking for those occasional gems of great art books that I could somehow afford.

At one point, I came across a ragged copy of a small catalog of prints called Prints of Distinction, bearing the imprint of Charles Sessler, the Philadelphia rare book dealer. The book included graphic work by Rembrandt and Durer, and I could afford it because it was damaged, so it was a definite find. It was there that I was introduced to Whistler’s fantastic etchings, as well as the graphics of D.Y. Cameron, James McBey and Joseph Pennell, and the beautiful etchings of Anders Zorn.

Zorn was one of the greatest modern etchers, approaching even Whistler in his faculty for suggesting varying textures, lighting and atmosphere in etched line. (See my effusive post about Whistler’s Etchings.)

Anders Zorn is best known as a painter, however, and is often thought of as a “Swedish Impressionist”. He started his career as a sculptor, shifted to working in watercolor and gouache, and later moved to oil. He was renowned in his lifetime for his portraits, but is known today more for his beautiful, glowing and painterly nudes, and his impressionistic fascination with the reflective characteristics of water.

His subject matter can be divided into a few major categories, female nudes, water (often combined in images of women wading in shallow water at the edges of streams or lakes), genre pantings of farms and workers, and portraits. His portraits included sculptor Auguste Rodin, US President Grover Cleveland and his wife, and members of European society, as well as many portraits of himself, his wife, Emma, and other members of his family.

In his portraits in particular, I find it hard look at Zorn’s work without thinking of Sargent (which is a Good Thing). Like Sargent, Zorn exhibits a confident looseness and deceptively casual appearance to his handling of the paint that masks an exacting sense of composition and control of color.

I don’t know if they met or influenced one another, but I have to assume Zorn was aware of Sargent. Zorn traveled extensively in Europe and the US, working and learning, but always returned to his native Sweden, to the region of Dalarna and the town of Mora, where he was born.

The Zorn Collections are a group of four museums in Mora based on donations to the state of Sweeden by Zorn and his wife. The official site contains a bio and gallery that includes oils, watercolors, etchings and drawings, as well as information about the museums.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of any inexpensive books on Zorn that I can recommend. There is no Dover book of his etchings, (though there should be) and most of what’s in print is on the expensive side.

The best I can suggest for those of you who are on an arts student’s budget is that you haunt the used bookstores, looking for those unexpected surprises.

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