Anders Zorn (1860-1920) was internationally one of the most famous artists of his era. Particularly popular in the USA, which he visited seven times and where he painted the portraits of  three presidents, Zorn is often compared with his equally brilliant near contemporary, rival and friend, John Singer Sargent. Of humble origins - he was the illegitimate son of a German brewer and Swedish peasant - he grew up with his grandparents in rural Sweden. His incredible artistic talent was already widely known when he was in his teens. Zorn made a shrewd marriage to Emma Lamm, who came from a wealthy Jewish merchant family and was interested in art and travel. 

Zorn's work can best be characterised as 'modernistic' and 'impressionistic' without going the whole hog. But what led to tremendous popularity in the 'gilded age' brought in turn a savage modernist backlash, and just like Sargent, Zorn was absurdly underrated in the mid 20th century. Although he has still some way to go to recover his international fame and reputation, he is revered and valued - both intellectually and commercially - in his native Sweden. 

While he was best known for his paintings, his etchings were tremendously popular as both 'entry level' Zorns, and lovely objects in their own right. They fetched higher prices than Rembrandts in his lifetime - which coincided with the height of the Etching Revival - and never fell entirely out of favour. He made nearly 300 in his lifetime. Many related to paintings, both watercolour and oil. Turning to oil painting in the early 1890s helped liberate Zorn's hitherto fairly tight and fastidious etching style. As Douglas Hyland writes, 'Zorn was concerned with the effect of light not only to achieve a sense of mood but of motion...'. One of his near contemporaries, curator H.P. Rossitter of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, believed 'Zorn has succeeded better than any of his predecessors in suggesting by layers of lines that evanescence of light and air which, under changing condition of sun and shadow, wrap the body like an invisible cloak'.

In Swedish, 'Mona' means mother, and the subject is Grudd Anna Anderscotter, who was an unmarried peasant when she give birth to Anders in 1860. She worked to support her young son, who was effectively adopted by his grandparents. Later she married another man, and died at a considerable age in early 1920, only a few months before Zorn himself. Zorn also painted her portrait, in similar dress (1898; Zorn Collection, Stockholm). This relatively austere frontal portrait dates from 1911; we note the impassive expression, the beautiful handling of the local costume, and the expressive hands, somewhat gnarled with age.


Douglas Hyland and Hans Henri Brummer, <em>Zorn: Paintings, Graphics and Sculpture </em>(Birmingham, AL, 1986)

Wikipedia, 'Anders Zorn', https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Zorn

Dr Mark Stocker  Curator, Historical International Art    July 2018


  • Title: Mona
  • Creator: Anders Zorn (artist)
  • Date Created: 1911
  • Location: Sweden
  • Physical Dimensions: Image: 250mm (height), 180mm (length)
  • Provenance: Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1969
  • Subject Keywords: Women | British
  • Rights: No Known Copyright Restrictions
  • External Link: Te Papa Collections Online
  • Medium: etching
  • Support: paper
  • Registration ID: 1969-0017-21

Get the app

Explore museums and play with Art Transfer, Pocket Galleries, Art Selfie, and more

Flash this QR Code to get the app
Google apps