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'.

Zorn's female nudes constitute a robust and important area of his oeuvre, both in paintings and print. His fondness of painting full-figured women gave rise to the terms Zorn's kulla or dalakulla, an unmarried woman or girl from Dalecarlia, as the women were called in the local dialect of the region in Sweden where Zorn lived.

<em>The Swan</em> is a case in point, and is a famous and favourite later-career etching by Zorn. It depicts a young nude woman unveiling herself while standing on rocks in a marine landscape. The white flesh and white drapery, as well as her sinuous forms, explain the title. There are connotations too of the birth of Venus.


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: The swan
  • Creator: Anders Zorn (artist)
  • Date Created: 1915
  • Location: Sweden
  • Physical Dimensions: Image: 248 (height), 198 (length)
  • Provenance: Gift of Sir John Ilott, 1956
  • Subject Keywords: Women | Nudes | Landscapes (Representations) | British | Symbolist
  • Rights: No Known Copyright Restrictions
  • External Link: Te Papa Collections Online
  • Medium: etching
  • Art Genre: landscape
  • Support: paper
  • Registration ID: 1956-0001-18

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