The Art of Anders Zorn 7: The White House and legacies

Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Dance in Gopsmorkate (1914), oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm, Zornmuseet, Mora, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

By the early years of the twentieth century, the Swedish artist Anders Zorn (1860–1920) was a portraitist of international repute, and a much-appreciated painter and print-maker. But by his own self-portrait, at the age of only forty-seven his travel, life and art were starting to get the better of him.

In the Spring of 1908, he got away from it all on a cruise in the Mediterranean, devoting his time on board to writing notes for his autobiography. The rest of the year it was back to a hectic series of exhibitions, in which he won a gold medal at Saint Petersburg, and showed his work with the Munich Secession. The following year, he had a solo exhibition at the VIII Biennale in Venice, then toured Europe by car, and exhibited in Berlin and Munich.

In March 1911, Zorn sailed on his seventh and last visit to the USA, where he was to paint the portraits of both the incumbent President, William Howard Taft, and his Vice-President, James Schoolcraft Sherman.

Anders Zorn (1860–1920), William Howard Taft (1911), oil on canvas, 117.8 x 89.2 cm, The White House, Washington, DC. Wikimedia Commons.

Zorn’s portrait of William Howard Taft (1911) was both painted and hung in the White House. Taft was in the middle of the twenty-seventh presidency, having been elected in 1909. Following his defeat in the election of 1912, he returned to Yale as a professor, and in 1921 was appointed Chief Justice of the United States, the only President to have held both offices. During his election campaign, photos of Taft were used to advantage, suggesting that the President was particular about this image too.

By May, Zorn was on his voyage back to Europe, where he exhibited with the Berlin Secessionists and in Rome. Then in 1912, he covered much of southern Europe, extending into the Middle East. The quiet retreat he had built for himself outside his home town of Mora must have been deserted for much of the year.

Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Three Sisters (1913), etching, 24.9 x 17.5 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Although this etching of Three Sisters from 1913 retains some of the spirit of his outdoor nudes, and his distinctive style, it has drifted perceptibly towards the type of image to be seen in early ‘girly’ photographic magazines.

Anders Zorn (1860–1920), Dance in Gopsmorkate (1914), oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm, Zornmuseet, Mora, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

His output of local paintings from Mora seems to have been steadily diminishing, but in 1914 he painted this marvellous Dance in Gopsmorkate, in which he again captures the movement of these country people.

With the outbreak of the Great War, Zorn was at last grounded. He turned to using the riches which his painting had earned for the greater good: in 1915, he donated two aircraft to the Swedish armed forces, and in 1917 gave one of his properties in Mora with a capital sum to found the Zorn Children’s Home there. The previous year, he had exhibited with Carl Larsson and Bruno Liljefors at the inauguration of the Liljevalchs Konsthall on Djurgården Island in Stockholm, which is now owned by the city.

Anders Zorn (1860–1920), I Werners Eka (In Werner’s Rowing Boat) (1917), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

I Werners Eka (In Werner’s Rowing Boat) from 1917 is one of his last great paintings of a nude outdoors, although this time his model sits in a small rowing boat rather than peeping through the reeds of Dalarö.

Anders Zorn (1860–1920), I Werners Eka (In Werner’s Rowing Boat) (detail) (1917), oil on canvas, dimensions not known, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.
Anders Zorn (1860–1920), At Lake Siljan (date not known), photographic print, dimensions and location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Zorn had also been an enthusiastic photographer, who apparently used his photos in his painting. This undated print was taken At Lake Siljan, close to Mora. Siljan is Sweden’s sixth largest lake, and Mora the lakeside’s largest town. This photo has the appearance of montage, but I can’t find any evidence that it’s a composite image. Its content and composition suggest that the artist may have used it for one of his many paintings or engravings of outdoor nudes.

In 1919, Zorn made an endowment to the Swedish-American Foundation which formed the Zorn Award. Early the following year, his mother died. He was then finally elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, and he continued his philanthropy by funding a chair in art history at Stockholm University. Then on 22 August 1920, Anders Zorn died at the age of sixty; his widow Emma died in 1942.


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.)