Anders Zorn Biography Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Anders Zorn is among the few artists from the 19th century who rose from grass to grace in Sweden and beyond. Having been born in an impoverished home, Anders had to work hard to gain a reputation among his Swedish fans, before becoming a household name in Europe and the USA.

As an artist, he was already producing portraits of famous figures like Queen Sophia, William Howard, The King of Sweden, and King Oscar II. But these were not his most popular pieces. The public seemed to appreciate his Summer Fun and Midsummer Dance more than these portraits. This could be because the paintings seemed to tell the story of Anders's early life and life in Sweden that most of his fans connected with. He painted them in the 19th century when there weren't many artists painting as well as he was. Maybe it is his upbringing that helped him develop the independence to not need a mentor or to be in a group of artists for him to excel in his trade. He was born on his maternal grandparents' farm in Mora, Dalarna. He grew up surrounded by love from his mother and her parents. His father was never there when he grew up, so the mother struggled to bring him up single-handedly. Zorn's bond with his mother and her parents was evident even after he had left home and made a name for himself abroad.

His early schooling was at the local Mora Strand School until 1872 when, at the age of 12, he left for his secondary education at a grammar school in Enköping. From here, he joined the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm between 1875 and 1880. It was here that his talent as an artist blossomed. He began receiving commissions from members of the Stockholm society, setting off his highly profitable career as an artist. One of his customers, Emma Lamm, was to later become his wife. She was from a Jewish wealthy family of merchants. She was interested in trading in art and cultural items, and Zorn had proved to have the ability to produce the pieces that she needed for her business. The first item he made for in her in 1881 was her portrait. He would later do other portraits of Lamm after he married her in 1885.

Zorn's passion for art kept growing as he produced one masterpiece after another. Soon he was traveling frequently as he grew his career until he made up his mind to leave his rural setup and settle abroad. His eight years in Paris helped to shape his career as he gained significant success and was awarded medals in 1889 at the World Exhibition. Although his works gained international recognition, he never abandoned his strong Swedish culture. His works continued to blend the international orientation with his native countryside and the Swedish culture. He made it his mission to preserve Sweden's folk culture as he went around his Mora neighborhood collecting buildings and cultural objects and displaying them in his art pieces.

His pieces were competing well with other artists' work from Europe and the USA, notable among them being Whistler, Sorolla, and Sargent. By 1899, Zorn was doing portraits of high ranking individuals such as the three American presidents Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft. Zorn made considerable wealth form his art. His color palette consisted of Yellow Ochre, Lead White, Ivory black and Vermilion. Though the palette was limited in colors, he was able to mix them up to come up with unique hues that supported his painting career. Our Daily Bread is one of the most famous watercolor paintings that Zorn did in 1886. His pieces were on demand in his native country, in Europe and America. His popular works are displayed in several museums around the world. The Midsummer Dance, which he donated to the Swedish authorities, was displayed at the Stockholm's National Museum of Fine Art. This piece depicts dancers at a midsummer evening at a rural celebration in midsummer. It is the dearest piece of art by Zorn, which was auctioned in 2010 for $3.35 million.

Zorn's career can be divided into three phases. The first phase was from his school days up to 1888 when he was using watercolor for his paintings. In 1889-1896, he was in Paris, working from his studio. This is the period that brought tremendous growth in Zorn's career as he interacted closely with similar artists Antonin Proust and Jean Baptiste Faure. And in 1896-1920, he was back in Sweden, majoring in building a collection of his native culture. It is during his last years that he made his most popular pieces, the nudes. He liked painting nudes of women using plein air technique to blend the nude female forms with their surroundings. To further preserve his native culture, he and his wife established a folk music contest as well as a folk high school in Mora, his hometown. This contributed to the rebirth of traditional folk music in most parts of Sweden. He spent most of his days painting local sceneries, people, and events that he thought were depicting the local way of life. These paints carried great details of the people in his hometown as they went on with their daily activities.

Zorn died in 1920 in Stockholm, Sweden, at the age of 60, after developing health complications. You can also find his works at Boston City Museum of Fine Arts, which bought 110 pieces of his work in 1928, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at Musée d'Orsay, Paris. The biggest collection of Zorn's works is in Sweden where they are displayed in four museums. His wife helped to create them after Zorn's death in 1920. In her will, Emma Lamm, Zorn's wife donated all her husband's unsold works to the Swedish authorities. The biggest museum where the works are displayed was opened in honor of Anders Zorn, in 1939, in Stockholm, Sweden. Although Zorn was mostly known as a painter, he made a number of etchings, such as the portrait of August Strindberg, Auguste Rodin, and Ernest Renan. He also made original graphics.