In 1860, the influential Swedish artist Anders Zorn was born out of wedlock in a cowshed in rural Sweden and never met his father. While a student in Stockholm, he began his career by painting portraits of the dead to make ends meet.
In coming to the United States, where nearly twenty-five percent of the population of his region emigrated for better opportunities, Zorn discovered that the values his peasant grandfather taught him–honesty and hard work–were the same values he recognized as transforming America into a great nation.
Zorn identified wholly with the American experience and many Americans who embraced him in friendship shared his “self-made” background.
Zorn led a peripatetic existence, remaining in one locale until wanderlust prodded him to move on. His enigmatic personality, full of contradictions, was rooted in his journey from “rags to riches.” Zorn had an enormous appetite for life, resulting in great achievements–and a multitude of excesses.
At his death, Zorn was worth the equivalent of nearly nine million in today’s dollars, all of which he left to the Swedish government.
Anders Zorn Self-Portrait
1904, etching on ivory laid paper 175x125 mm
He traveled a fascinating path from the cowshed of his birth. The legacy he left his hometown of Mora, in central Sweden, is found in The Zorn Museum, which calls itself in Swedish Zornsamlingarna (Zorn Collections) because of the large extent of Zorn’s collecting interests. Along with his own art, there is a significant collection of Rembrandt etchings, paintings and sculpture by other artists, antiquities, a silver collection, a textile collection, Zorn’s own furniture designs, an extensive library, and even a collection of medieval Swedish timber structures. The Zorn Museum was founded in 1939, nineteen years after the artist’s death in 1920.
Between the years 1893 and 1911, Anders Zorn made seven trips to the United States, traveling widely and crafting portraits of some of America’s most prominent figures, including Grover Cleveland, William Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Andrew Carnegie.
Yet very little has been written about these visits. With their book, Zorn in America, Willow and William Hagans present for the first time in English the definitive chronicle of Anders Zorn’s travels to the United States.
The result of twenty years of research, Zorn in America illuminates the details and stories that surround the paintings and etchings Zorn completed during his lengthy sojourns in the United States.
From serving as Swedish art director at the Chicago and St. Louis world’s fairs to etching presidents and Wall Street financiers, the Hagans reveal how Zorn’s trips solidified his standings at the time as one the era’s greatest and most in-demand artists.
Beyond an increase in fame (and fortune), however, these journeys brought to Anders, and his wife Emma, many lasting and significant friendships—with figures like the art collector Isabella Stewart Gardner and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, among others—that in turn influenced Zorn and his art greatly.
Anders Zorn made seven trips to the United States, painting and etching over one-hundred prominent Americans.
The artist’s experiences in the United States have not been researched in great detail until now. Unlike many European portrait painters who traveled to America in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Zorn did not limit his activities to brief visits to the East Coast.
The Zorn project began in 1988 when we first saw an etching by the artist in Louise Hall Tharp’s biography of Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
As avid, yet unfocused, collectors of prints, we were struck by his bold impressionistic approach to the medium.
We vowed to learn more about Anders Zorn (1860-1920), but at the time, there was little available in English.
Published by the Swedish-American Historical Society, in coordination with the American Swedish Institute,
Zorn in America: A Swedish Impressionist of the Gilded Age, a book by William and Willow Hagans,
is illustrated with over 140 paintings, etchings, drawings, and photographs.
A major exhibition, Zorn – A Swedish Superstar, will be presented by the National Museum in Stockholm from April 6 to August 29, 2021, featuring works from its own archives and those of the Zorn Museum in Mora, as well as lesser-known works from private collections.
For detailed information, visit the National Museum's website.