Art History · Spotlight on Artists

Meet Swedish Portraitist Anders Zorn

Self-Portrait, 1889, Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920), Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi, Soprintendenza Speciale Per Il Polo Museale Fiorentino. Photo from gardnermuseum.org.

Next up in what is becoming a recurring series of featured artists is Anders Zorn. Zorn is very interesting, and not just because his name is so much fun to say. This Swedish artist was a favorite of the great early-twentieth century American art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner. She purchased several of his works, including his multiple portraits of her (see below), for her Boston collection turned museum. I saw a special exhibition of Zorn’s paintings (Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America) at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum this past spring, and that is when I first became interested in his work.

Anders Zorn, “Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice”, 1894, oil on canvas, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo from gardnermuseum.org.

Zorn is particularly known for his portraits of prominent members of society, such as Gardner and her husband George. Despite his traditional subject matter, Zorn’s style was firmly that of a modernist in the vein of fellow boundary-pushing portraitists Whistler and Sargent (Gardner 122). He made frequent use of loose brushwork, employed unusual compositional choices, and displayed a modernist indifference towards naturalistic detail.

George Peabody Gardner, 1899, Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920), Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo from gardnermuseum.org.

As was common for forward-looking artists of the era, Zorn also painted scenes of modern city life, many depicting women. The work below, The Omnibus, is one of his best-known paintings in this category, and it currently resides at the Gardner Museum. He also frequently painted nudes, landscapes, and scenes involving artists.

The Omnibus, second version, 1892, Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920), Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Photo from gardnermuseum.org.

Despite his one-time popularity, Zorn is not particularly celebrated today. This is more likely due to his subject matter, than to any specific characteristic of the his style or reputation. In a twentieth-century Western art world increasingly dominated by formalism and abstraction, portraiture’s heavy dependance on representation made it extremely unfashionable (Gardner 120-122). However, last year’s exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum may be a sign that interest in the artist is rising again.

In Wikström’s Studio, 1889, Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920), Zorn Museum, Mora
Photo: Patric Evinger (from gardnermuseum.org).

Sources:

Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Feb. 28 – May 13, 2013) online

Gardner, James. “Anders Zorn: Rediscovering an Art Star”. The Magazine Antiques vol. 180 no. 2 (March/April 2013). 120-125.

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