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Anders Zorn was a highly skilled Swedish artist from the late 19th and early 20th century who brought the lives of Swedish society to our eyes in a personal style that lied somewhere between Impressionism and Realism.
This was an artist who achieved worldwide respect for his work, both from the public but also academics and this was rare for an artist from this region of Northern Europe. As a result, many were not used to seeing the charming scenes of areas such as Sweden, Denmark or Norway within art and this gave Zorn a particular niche advantage. His precise depictions remind us of artists like Singer Sargent or Sorolla, but the Swede held similar levels of technical ability.
You will see from the list of his more famous artworks below that he loved to capture the real lives of his local community, albeit the more affluent members of it. Women were a particular focus of his work and he produced portraits in many different contexts, though always within his precise detail.
Whilst his brushwork was faithful to the scenes that Zorn was viewing, he did tend to leave a looseness which allows an element of imagination to be used by the viewer. This technique would be criticised by previous generations as lazy or incomplete, but times had changed and the art followers of this period understood that he was actually using expressive touches that went beyond just what one could see.
It bears a similarity to Impressionism, in that sense, where an artist is beginning the movement towards all the extraordinary twists of reality that came in the mid to late 20th century. Zorn struck a balance which is starting to regain its popularity with those who appreciate scenes of this charming period, but without too much stringent, academic styling.
It was the content as much as the style which draws an appreciation to Zorn's paintings today. He captured elegant settings of the upper classes along with more personal depictions of young women bathing or enjoying their leisure time in other ways. There was a purity to these characters and an honesty to their lives that many today will be attracted to. Midsummer Dance is a great example of this, where several local couples dance playfully outdoors, whilst wearing their traditional clothing.
Incorporation of Nature
In other scenes he will capture reclining women within brightly-lit natural settings, such as by a river or lake. There was rarely any message in his work, that some academics would wish to complain about, but he simply appreciated the aesthetic beauty of the different snapshots of life which dominate his oeuvre. As his reputation reached extraordinary levels, he would receive a number of high profile commissioned portraits, which boosted his connections within the art world and beyond.
There has been a growing appreciation of artists such as Zorn in recent years and this has also led to a greater focus on related artists' work, such as John Singer Sargent, Joaquín Sorolla and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Many find this blend of impressionism, realism and personal flair to have left behind some thoroughly charming artworks from across 19th century Europe, with other impressive exponents also found within the US and Russia.
Use of Watercolour and Oils
The medium of watercolour has also received fluctuating interest from academics, but has always remained a respected art form within Northern Europe, but with most of these artists being skilled in a number of different mediums, their reputations have never fallen too far from prominence. Their content also helps to tell visual stories about their own local communities, perhaps in a better way than reading through sterile biographies or history books.
We can start to pinpoint the influence of other masters within his work once we become aware of the large collection of paintings that he collected during his own lifetime. Zorn sought out original paintings from some of the finest artists in history in order to learn and appreciate their work within his own home. During previous centuries, such as this, it was much harder to understand other artist's work as travel was harder and more expensive to organise and the distribution of information was not as global as it is today.
That left those with sufficient budgets with the alternative of actually purchasing some of their hero's work themselves. In most cases, the items bought by Zorn would later be bequethed to galleries and museums within Sweden upon his passing. The contributors to his collection included Rembrandt, Bruno Liljefors, Albert Edelfelt, and Pehr Hilleström.