Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anders Zorn 1

My internet connection is shakey tonight, I am going to write a paragraph or two and get off while I still can. The paintings on this post are by Anders Zorn (1860-1920) who was a Swedish contemporary of Sargent. I think their work has a lot in common. Zorn's work wouldn't be mistaken for Sargents, but their thought processes had a lot in common.

Zorn, like Sargent painted dircttly from life and worked in alla prima technique. He was a little unusual in that he generally used a palette restricted to three colors., red (vermilion), yellow ochre, and black, plus of course white. His work is painted with the same sort of structural brushstroke as Sargent's and he, like Sargent, was very attentive to edges.

Zorn did a lot of portraits and was extremely sucsessful. In fact he made fortunes. His home was full of great paintings and art objects. When he died the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in today's money was found hidden in his studio. Also tubes of blue paint, but he did tend to eschew the use of blue throughout his entire career.

Zorn was prodigiously talented as a young man. He came from a humble background but became a society portraitist, working often in Paris and making seven separate painting trips to the U.S. to do heads. He painted over 500 commissioned portraits. Zorn's heroes were Velazquez and Rembrandt.

I read recently that Zorn worked very deliberately, but quickly, making each stroke but once. Each stroke represented something, there was no indecision, that may have been the result of doing so many watercolors early in his career. Evidently he had the habit of making the stroke first, in the air in front of his canvas, rehearsing for the actual brush stroke on the painting.

15 comments: said...

The Gardner Museum has a nice collection of Zorn paintings, drawings and PHOTOGRAPHS he worked with.
Strange but true. Manet used photographs too. But the difference between those artists and many beginning painters is that they had already learned how to paint and draw before they made use of photograph technology.

Lucy said...

It's amazing to think what can be done with a few colors in the hands of a master. It would be interesting to try this palette. Great point about the use of photography, Marian.

billspaintingmn said...

Rehersing a brush stroke makes sense. The fact that each stroke had its part tells me he knew what
he wanted. He was a thinker.
I heard about the tubes of blue, but all that cash make me wonder..
was Zorn a secretive type, did he hide the way he painted?
Stape, you bring a strong interest to the people you post about. I always want to know more!

Stanka Kordic said...

I just returned a book to the library that I found eye-opening. It's called "Beyond Impressionism, the Naturalist Impulse" by Gabriel P. Weisburg. In it I learned, that Zorn and other naturalists relied on photography for their work. They would take photos, and often set up the models later in the studio to work from life. I was floored to see the photographic references of familiar Zorn paintings I assumed he painted on the spot! It's not a well known fact, as you can imagine.

Made me feel better actually.

अर्जुन said...

"…they had already learned how to paint and draw before they made use of photograph technology."

Not quite, actually, many of Zorns earliest pencil and watercolor portraits are after photographs.

Barbara said...

Photographs were just more practical and kinder than painting models as they posed in chilly water. I remember hearing of the Zorn palette long before I saw a Zorn.

John D. Wooldridge said...

Fascinating about the rehearsal of strokes!! I've actually done that a time or two. I'm not sure it helped very much, LOL.

John Kilroy said...

Hi,Stapleton- Zorn's pallet is mistakenly designated as three colors plus white, when in fact it is: Lead White, Light Ocher, Dark Ocher, Vermilion Red and Black. This is clearly visible on the pallet in his self- portrait with nude with long hair. He also added Chrome Yellow, Cobalt Blue and Viridian when necessary as demonstrated in Opal in the Worcester Art Museum.In America this misinformation was largely disseminated in Andrew Loomis's terrific book, Creative Illustration. cheers jk

Judy P. said...

Great reading about brushstrokes- in that last painting those wild, loose strokes are amazing. I also feel better learning Zorn and other greats used photography; I hate it when people put down such a practical source for painting.

Right now the NYTimes has a nice article on the current Adelson Galleries exhibit of Sargent as impressionist, which nicely supplements what Stapleton has been writing. It's at

jeff said...

There was an interesting article, I think it was in American Artist, a few years ago on Zorn. It was written by the curator of the Zorn museum.
She basically said that he used used blues in his palette and that he had something to the effect of two hundred tubes of Cobalt blue in his studio at the time of his death. Mind you I'm not sure what to believe but it seems he did use a very limited palette.

I know I've mentioned this before, but I have read that Ivory Black was a lot bluer in tone than it is today. Also Zorn had two types of Vermilion one that was apparently like Cad Orange and the other like Cad Red Light.

Zorn, Sargent and Sorolla are my all time favorite painters of this period and many others for that matter.

Zorn's watercolors are unbelievable, his technique in this medium is outstanding. He was a pretty good print-maker as well. said...

I copied photographs with pencil too when was in the seventh and eighth grades. I was suppose to be doing my Latin homework. I didn't start painting until I learned how to draw from life.So just how early were those Zorn drawings from photos? Did HE take Latin too? Poor guy.
Ars longa, vita brevis! But Latin class seems like eternity.

artybecca said...

This is my favorite Zorn painting. It's at the Biltmore in NC. I fell in love with it and went home with a big framed copy!

अर्जुन said...

""So just how early were those Zorn drawings from photos?""

~ 1874, when Zorn was 14.

Richard J. Luschek II said...

Here is a site with some great Zorns.
I think Zorn painted the best wet butts in the history of painting.

David Westerfield said...

Another good book: Zorn in America: A Swedish Impressionist of the Gilded Age. Great stories and insight about his trips to the U.S. A lot of etchings and an 18 page section of paintings in color. Available from