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Retrospective highlights work of one of most sought-after portrait painters of America's Gilded Age
Anders Zorn, River under Old Stone Bridge, 1884. Watercolor, 9 3/16 x 13 7/8 in. (23.3 x 35.2 cm) Zornmuseet, Mora. Photograph by Lars Berglund.
NEW YORK, NY.- The National Academy presents a major retrospective of Anders Zorn (1860-1920), one of the greatest Swedish painters at the turn of the 20th century. A virtuoso watercolorist, bravura painter, and etcher, Zorn rose from humble beginnings in the Swedish countryside to travel the world, captivate American artists and politicians alike, and paint some of the most-sought after portraits of America’s Gilded Age.

Featuring 90 rarely seen works, oil paintings, watercolors, etchings, and sculptures, drawn from public and private collections throughout Europe and the United States, this major retrospective, on view February 27 through May 18, 2014, reveals the vibrant artistic personality of Sweden’s master painter.

A truly international artist, Zorn’s traveled early in his career to Spain and Algeria where the intense color and light inspired this skillful watercolorist to perfect his craft. Later in Paris, ̶influenced by the Impressionists, he chronicled modern life, while in America he rivaled John Singer Sargent as the most sought-after portraitist of high society. During his seven trips to the United States, he portrayed bankers, and industrialists including Andrew Carnegie, and even three presidents - Presidents Grover Clevand, Theodore Roosevelt, and, in a portrait that still hangs in the White House today, William Howard Taft. Back in Sweden he painted scenes of the Swedish countryside, his native folk culture and the beauty and serenity of the Nordic landscape. “Zorn was one of the leader artists of his time, and it is wonderful that American audineces will now be able to become more familiar with this master’s art in all its richness and beauty”, stated Bruce Weber, Senior Curator.

The illegitimate son of a Bavarian brewer, Zorn was born into humble circumstances in 1860. Raised by his mother on his grandparents’ farm in Mora, Sweden, Zorn’s artistic virtuosity blossomed early. At the age of fifteen, he was accepted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. Soon after, one of his paintings was purchased by King Oscar II of Sweden.

In 1881, Zorn met his future wife, Emma Lamm, who hailed from a wealthy Jewish family. During the four years of their secret engagement, Zorn worked diligently to achieve success in the art world, and thus secure a future with Lamm. After gaining international recognition with work accepted for the Paris Salon and garnering commissions as a portrait painter, Zorn and Lamm wed. Her intelligence and social connections contributed to a powerful partnership, and his respect for her is seen in one of his earliest oil paintings, Emma Reading.

Zorn travelled the globe, finding inspiration in Stockholm, Madrid, Algiers, Constantinople, London, Paris, Venice, New York and Chicago. His subject matter ranged as widely as his travels: from Swedish peasants at work to American presidents including Grover Cleveland, William Taft, and Theodore Roosevelt, and from high society ladies poised in their finest clothing to voluptuous nudes frolicking the countryside. It was fitting that one of Lamm’s cousins called Zorn “a hybrid between a gentleman and a farmer.”

Zorn temporarily relocated to Paris just in time for the Exposition Universelle of 1889, a breakthrough moment his work as a painter. He was shortly thereafter decorated with the Legion d’Honneur, the most prestigious order in France.

Over the course of seven extensive visits to the United States, Zorn became one of the most sought-after portraitists of the Gilded Age—rivaling John Singer Sargent in popularity. He painted in an elegant, assured style that captivated wealthy, influential members of society: American bankers, industrial magnets, and politicians. His involvement with the Swedish section of the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 led to his meeting with many members of American high society, including influential art collectors Charles Deeving and Isabella Stewart Gardiner, whom he went on to paint and etch.

In 1896, Zorn resettled in his hometown of Mora, where he painted scenes of rural and urban life during a time when Sweden was transforming itself from a primarily agrarian society into one more dependent on industry. His painting Midsummer Dance, which revels in rural traditions, is considered one of Sweden’s national treasures.

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