Late in 1898, Anders Zorn (1860–1920) and his wife packed their bags and sailed for America, where they arrived just before Christmas. The following year, he was to paint more of his most famous and enduring portraits, and to experience that bugbear of the portraitist, the sitter who can never be satisfied.
In late January 1899, Zorn spent three weeks in Princeton, New Jersey, where he had been commissioned to paint the former US President Grover Cleveland and his wife Frances Folsom Cleveland. The ex-President had only recently (1897) completed his second term in office, amid great unpopularity, although today he’s generally considered to have been a successful leader. Zorn painted them both on their estate, Westland Mansion in Princeton, where he was able to enjoy the company of some of the more unusual characters who were among the Clevelands’ friends.
Before painting Grover Cleveland, Zorn had completed commissioned portraits of the US oil magnate Henry Clay Pierce, his late wife, and daughter Perle. Their relationships with the artist were never happy, and quarrels smouldered on during those sittings. Pierce refused to pay his bill, which came to over $13,000, demanding that Zorn make further changes to the paintings. Later in the year, Pierce capitulated and paid up.
By the summer of 1899, the Zorns were back at home in Mora, where he was busy working on the Swedish art exhibition for the Exposition Universelle in Paris the following year, the opening of the twentieth century. Not only was Zorn the commissioner for Sweden, but he also exhibited his own paintings and prints, as a result of which he was awarded the Grand Prix in both media.
After his success in Paris, Zorn was back in Mora for the summer, where he painted this intimate portrait of A Mother and her Child (1900).
In the early autumn, he exhibited at the Secessionist Exhibition in Berlin, and from there he went on to Paris before crossing the Atlantic again to New York, where his wife Emma joined him. Her husband painted portraits through the winter, at his standard fee of $4,000 apiece.
With his growing fame, Zorn inevitably started to attract some adverse criticism, usually centred on his nudes, which were occasionally rejected from exhibitions on grounds of their impropriety. These had never been classical, having started as outdoor figures in the reeds around his summer haunts at Dalarö in the Stockholm archipelago. Now some considered them to be full of lust.
His unconventional painting of Freya was made in 1901 as a gift for Samuel Montgomery Roosevelt, cousin of the US President. Her waist-length hair sweeps down over her right arm, as she lounges in her throne in Sessrúmnir. She holds a chalice in her left hand, and a black cat is by her feet. Roosevelt was a keen amateur artist, and Zorn painted this work in a large studio in New York when he was visiting.
The Zorns then returned to Mora for the summer of 1901, where he painted this Girl from Dalecarlia Knitting. ‘Cabbage Margit’ (1901). Mora is in this Swedish province of Dalarna, which is appropriately translated as ‘the Dales’.
Landmarks over the following years include a visit to Spain in 1902, the unveiling of Zorn’s bronze statue of King Gustav Vasa in Mora the following year, and a return to the US later that November. In 1904 he attended a reception at the White House, and as a result made an etching of President Theodore Roosevelt. In the summer of 1905 he sailed in the Baltic with fellow artists Albert Engström and Akseli Gallen-Kellela.
In the Spring of 1906, Zorn’s first major retrospective exhibition was held in Paris, where he showed 166 works in all.
He continued to paint during those years of extensive travel. Girls from Dalarna in the Sauna from 1906 takes his natural outdoor nudes into the dry indoor heat of a sauna. The girl who is standing holds a small metal pan used to pour water on the hot stones, to prevent the air from becoming too dry. The rich firelight adds to the impression of heat.
Although only forty-seven when he painted this Self-Portrait in 1907, the pace of his travel, life and art wasn’t treating him well. One of his projects had been to build himself a remote cabin and studio some miles away from his house in Mora, to which he could retreat and unwind. But he still had his third US President to sit for him.
The Zorn Museum site; if you ever get a chance to visit this museum, it has a superb collection of his works, and much more.
Cederlund J, Brummer HH, Hedström P and Ganz JA (2013) Anders Zorn. Sweden’s Master Painter, Skira. ISBN 978 0 8478 4151 6.
Sandström B (2005) Anders Zorn, Nationalmuseum and NOK, Sweden. ISBN 978 9 127 11172 1. (In Swedish.)