Anders Leonard Zorn was born in Sweden in 1860. Though his parents never married, he was allowed to take his father’s name. Raised by his grandparents, Zorn spent his childhood in Yvraden and attended Mora Strand and a grammar school in Enkoping.
From a very early age, Anders Zorn showed great potential as an artist. He desired to become a famous sculptor and spent many hours carving pieces of wood into realistic objects. His love of sculpting and obvious talent transferred well into the realm of painting. From 1875 to 1880, Zorn studied this art medium at the Royal Academy of Arts in Stockholm, Sweden.
Initially, Zorn enjoyed painting watercolors. His 1880 watercolor, In Mourning, drew attention for its detail and realistic portrayal of a grieving woman.
Knowing that he wanted to marry, Zorn set off at an early age to make a substantial living as an artist. Fortunately, his talent made him quite successful all over Europe. He had a unique knack for painting portraits. Anders Zorn believed that a portrait should be painted with background detail appropriate to the subject’s own life setting. He became well known for his true representation of both culture and character when painting a portrait. Zorn’s portraits contained a variety of subjects from the esteemed political and royal figures of his day to typical rustic images. In England, Zorn was especially known for his nude paintings.
By 1885, Zorn had made his fortune and was able to marry his wife Emma. They spent the first eleven years of their marriage traveling abroad, but always returned to Sweden for the summer. Emma was instrumental in Zorn’s career. She willingly took on the role of critical analyst. It was during these years that Zorn mastered the complicated task of painting realistic water scenes, which is a feat he is still praised for today.
Zorn switched from painting watercolors to painting oils in 1887. The second oil painting he completed, A Fisherman in St Ives, was a quick success.
By this point in his life, Zorn had mastered three incredible talents. First, he was making money painting realistic and lively portraits. Second, he could paint light reflecting off water – a rare technique at the time. Third, the paintings he created during his summers in Sweden proved he could manipulate light and create both shadows and sunbeams. To combine all three, Zorn painted many subjects in and around water.
Being recognized as a great artist allowed Zorn the opportunity to travel to the United States in 1893. He served as superintendent of the Swedish art exhibition at the Columbian World Fair held in Chicago. Throughout the rest of his life he traveled back to the United States for work and pleasure. His talent for painting portraits had reached America and he was in constant demand. Two Presidents sat for Anders Zorn; Grover Cleveland and William Taft.
Zorn also enjoyed etching. He even illustrated an etching of Theodore Roosevelt. It was an art form that Zorn began practicing in the early 1880’s and continued to use as he created masterpieces throughout his life. In all, he completed 289 etchings, most of which were portraits.
In 1896, Anders and Emma moved back to Sweden for good. A cottage from his grandfather’s farm was relocated and the Zorn’s spent several years remodeling and expanding it. The pair quickly immersed and invested themselves in the community. They started reading programs, a library, and a children’s home, in addition to opening a local school.
Zorn’s passion was to discover a way to preserve Swedish folk music. His work sparked a renaissance of folk music in Sweden and kept it alive. Even today, the most prestigious award for a folk musician is the Zorn award.
Zorn continued to paint until his health began deteriorating. In 1920, Anders Leonard Zorn passed away. A diverse group of people attended his funeral as a true testament to a life of dedication and talent; from the Swedish royal family to colorful characters from all walks of life and from many places.
The Zorn cottage in Sweden still stands today. Part of it is devoted to a museum. It is preserved not only as a historical testament to the era in which Zorn lived, but in memory of a giving, adventurous man who shared his talents with the world.
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