Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Swedish Venuses: Dalecarlian girls having a sauna by Anders Zorn

Dalecarlian girls having a sauna 1906

Anders Zorn was almost certainly the finest painter that Sweden has ever produced and although he is not very well known in the UK he has a stronger following in the United States, where he painted three presidents and many society portraits. But it is for his splendid nudes of local girls from in and around his hometown of Mora that we include him here.

Reflections 1889

Anders Leonardsson (he didn't take his father's name of Zorn until later) was born in Yvraden, Mora in Dalecarlia on February 16th 1860. His father was a German brewer helping to set up a brewery in Uppsala which is where he met Ander's mother (they never married). His father died when he was 12 and Zorn inherited some money which helped pay for his education.

Helga 1917

From the age of 15 until he was 21 he studied art in Stockholm. Initially he concentrated on watercolours but having found fame by winning a prize at a student show in 1881 he travelled to London the following year. For the next five years he spent a lot of time in Britain, although he travelled to Spain and Portugal too. In 1885 he stayed in St Ives and came under the influence of a number of artists there, including the American Edward Simmons who helped him learn more about oil painting. From this time he painted almost exclusively in oils.

Frileuse 1894

By the end of the 1880s he was successfully exhibiting in Paris and moved in a social circle which included Prinz Eugen. He was based in Paris until 1886 but always spent some of the year back in Mora where he built a home. He travelled to New York and found a number of wealthy patrons for many of whom he painted portraits. He continued to visit the US and many other places, including Poland, Russia and Turkey, but always returning regularly to Sweden, spending the summers sailing the Swedish archipelago in his yacht.

Le tub 1888

When in Sweden he actively encouraged the Swedish folk movement transforming the simplicity of Dalecarlian life into a Swedish national self-image which persists to this day. His watercolour Le tub really defines tha palate of the simple Swedish folk interior.

Latterly he produced more and more etchings which show enormous skill in depicting light and shade with relatively few lines. Having been in ill health some time Anders Zorn died on 22nd August 1922.

In Werner's rowing boat 1917

Zorn produced many fine nudes of the strapping local girls in Dalecarlia even gaining some notoriety for frequently taking women out in boats so he could pose them by Lake Siljan.

Zorn had a wonderful ability to render water, even in etchings, and it is no surprise that many of his girls are depicted by the shore.

We think Zorn deserves to be better known and what better advertisement for his skill than his lush Swedish girls. His Dalecarlian girls having a sauna (1906) catches the heat of the environment perfectly and the warm glow of the (invisible) brazier. We saw this painting on a visit to the National Gallery in Stockholm last year and was immediately impressed by it. Although we have to admit that although there is a great mythology about the erotic appeal of the sauna (especially from non sauna nations!) in Agent Triple P's limited experience they are just far too hot to enjoy; much better to enjoy them vicariously through Anders Zorn's sensitive brush.
Thanks to A for some of the background in this piece (and indeed showing Agent Triple P the painting in the first place).

Self portrait with a model 1896

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