One of the most prominent artists Sweden has ever produced, Anders Zorn was a painter and sculptor best known for his nude studies and portraits. Considered to be among the most talented painters of the late 19th century, his paintings were characterized by certain expressiveness that is hard to convey in words. He possessed the ability to capture the character and personality of the subjects he painted on his canvas, such was the scale of his artistic abilities. Though best known for his nudes, he was equally skilled at painting portraits, especially of the common, working class. Born as the illegitimate son of a working class woman, life was not particularly easy for the young Anders. He had never met his father though the man had acknowledged him as his son and given him his name. From a young age Anders was fascinated by all forms of art and displayed artistic abilities. Through his determination and sheer hard work he rose from his humble beginnings to become one of the most famous artists to have been born in Sweden. His rags to riches story culminated in a fairy-tale ending when he met and fell in love with a beautiful girl from a wealthy family. The ensuing marriage to his lady love proved lucky for him and he went on to achieve international fame as an artist.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born on 18 February 1860, in Mora, Sweden, to Grudd Anna Andersdotter, a young unmarried peasant woman. His mother had met and developed a relationship with the German Brewer, Leonhard Zorn which had resulted in Anders’ birth. Even though he never met his father, his father acknowledged him and gave him his family name.
Young Anders was raised by his grandparents on their farm. He studied at a local school till the age of 12 before enrolling at a secondary grammar school in Enköping in 1872. Even as a little boy he displayed unusual artistic abilities and used to carve figures of horses and men in wood.
At the age of 15, he entered the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm in 1875. His teachers were amazed by the talent this teenager possessed and by the time he completed his studies in 1880, he was flooded with commissions from the members of Stockholm society.
Initially he had planned to become a sculptor but later decided to pursue painting as a career. He was drawn towards watercolors and he displayed his painting ‘In mourning’ at a student exhibition in 1880. The painting shows a young girl in mourning and Anders was much appreciated for the manner in which he had painted a girl’s face under a veil.
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He began to gain popularity even while in college and there was no dearth of painting opportunities for him once he graduated. Over the 1880s his popularity spread and he started receiving commissions from different places.
He traveled a lot over the 1880s. He toured the UK, France, Spain, and Italy, and was also invited to paint in the United States. By this time he was in love with a wealthy girl, and was determined to make a successful career for himself so that he could marry her.
He loved painting with water colors, and as an aquarellist created some really wonderful pieces of art including ‘The Thornbush’ and ‘Summer Vacation’. He painted his most famous water color ‘Our Daily Bread’ in 1886; the painting was commissioned by Swedish National Museum.
A very skilled painter, he became especially known for his portrait art and traveled a lot to the United States to paint three different Presidents—Grover Cleveland, William H. Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt.
During the 1890s he started painting the nudes that he would become renowned for. His nudes were primarily female figures, depicted outdoors. He used the plein air painting technique, effortlessly blending the female forms with their surroundings.
After several years of traveling abroad, he decided to move home to Mora in Sweden in 1896. Returning home saw a change in his painting motifs. He did many paintings of Mora and its citizens, often painting the common folk in great details as they went about their day-to-day chores.
In addition to being a painter, he was also a skilled etcher. Over his career he produced 289 etchings, many of which including the portraits of Ernest Renan, August Rodin, and August Strindberg became very well-known.
Awards & Achievements
He was made a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur at the Exposition Universelle 1889 Paris World Fair when he was 29 years old.
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Emma Lamm in 1881 and fell in love with her. Even though she hailed from a wealthy family as opposed to Zorn’s humble background, she had a genuine appreciation for art and culture. She was supportive of his ambitions and the two got married in 1885.
The couple cared a lot about contributing to the society and established a folk high school in Mora for the youngsters. His wife also established a reading society and a children’s home.
Zorn established a music contest in 1906 to preserve traditional folk music, leading to a resurgence of folk music in Sweden.
He suffered health problems during the last years of his life and died on August 22, 1920. His wife worked to create a museum in his honor which opened in 1939.