Sunday, March 31, 2019

Was Zorn an Impressionist?

Swedish artist Anders Zorn working on his
painting Mora Marknad (The Mora Fair) 1892.
Blog reader Mel Gibsokarton translated some memoirs of Russian painter Konstantin Korovin, which included this story of Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920) in Russia.

Zorn had joined a group of dignitaries for a polite evening that included the artists Korovin and Polenov, the Governor of Moscow, and a lot of high-society ladies. They were all interested in meeting the famous artist-foreigner.

As they gathered around the great round table to drink tea, one of the ladies declared:

"'I tell you, the paintings these days,' one lady said. 'Awful! All brushstrokes and brushstrokes, it doesn’t make sense. Horrible. I have been to an exhibition in Petersburg lately. They said, these are the Impressionists. A haystack is drawn, and, just imagine, blue… Impossible, awful. We have hay, and, I think, everywhere. Green, is it not? And his is blue! And yet more brushstrokes and brushstrokes… A famous, they say, artist-impressionist, Frenchman. It’s God knows what! But I'm glad you are not an Impressionist. Hopefully, we don’t have them and thank God.'"

"'I see,' Zorn blinked somewhat uneasily. 'Yes. But Velasquez is also an impressionist, my lady,' he said.

"'Really?,' the ladies were surprised.

"'Yes, and he' (Zorn pointed at me) 'is an impressionist.'

"'You don't say, really?' The ladies were surprised again. 'But he painted Sophia’s portrait so smoothly!'

"On the road back home Zorn asked me: 'Is this high society?'"

"'Yes,' I said.

"'How strange.'

"Zorn became silent. And the next morning he packed his briefcases and left for his home in Switzerland Sweden."
From the book "Константин Коровин вспоминает..."  (Konstantin Korovin reminisces...) Thanks, Mel.
Book on Zorn: Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter
Wikipedia: Anders Zorn


A Colonel of Truth said...

Have visited Zorn’s home (and museum) in Mora, Sweden a handful of times. Numerous books on him. First time reading/hearing he had a home in Switzerland. Misstatement, perhaps?

James Gurney said...

Hi, Colonel, Yes, of course, he lived in Mora. "Switzerland" stopped me, too, but I kept it the way Mel translated it. Perhaps it should be Sweden, but I didn't want to change it without knowing for sure.

Maximilian Redlefs said...

I can absolutely relate to Zorn here. There is a wierd break between people who use art primarily as a means of social signaling (the lady obviously wanted to sound smart by mocking a style she regarded as pedestrian, thus painting this reductionary black and white picture of art styles) and people who are actually interested in the art itself and see it in shades of grey.

A Colonel of Truth said...

Thanks, James. Of course, understand.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Sweden and Switzerland sound kind of similar in Russian and are often confused (Shvedtziya and Shveytzariya)

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Of course, Sargent, too, was very appreciative of Impressionists, Monet in particular. It seems like he actually recognized a certain superiority in their vision which wasn't fully accessible to him (and some of his works are borderline Impressionistic.) James has a nice post somewhere about it, as I recall.

Peter Drubetskoy said...

I'd be curious to learn whether the cohort of Sargent, Sorolla, Zorn, Repin themselves initially faced a push back for employing sketch-like brushwork in finished works, compared to the accepted high finish look (think Bouguereau). Or whether their innovation, unlike that of the Impressionists, did not cross into the "too far" territory but instead was immediately accepted as a natural extension of the academic tradition.

Mel Gibsokarton said...

Oh, I'm embarassed! I did translate Sweden as Switzerland for some reason, and it was "Sweden" in the original too. But I assure you, the rest of the translation is fairly accurate. I am very flattered that this little account I have translated has been featured in your blog.

James Gurney said...

Mel, no problem. I adjusted the post. I'm super grateful that you shared this story. I'm fascinated by the how the Russians in the 1880s and 1890s perceived painting trends in France, Spain, and Scandinavia.

Peter, that's an interesting question. The fundamental insights of impressionism about light and color were so profound that artists could hardly ignore them. The sketch / finish controversy was a related issue, I guess, and so was the radical choice of subject matter, painting regular people doing ordinary things, as opposed to mythological or historical scenes. What an amazing period of ferment and originality.

Lynnwood said...

Maximilian,I agree Artists( and musicians,too) esp. good ones have a more pragmatic and inclusive view of their art form than the general public.. Not to mention art critics.

Lynnwood said...

Maximilian,I agree Artists( and musicians,too) esp. good ones have a more pragmatic and inclusive view of their art form than the general public.. Not to mention art critics.

Laura G. Young said...

Thanks for sharing this, Mel and James!

It's interesting, how labels are used to describe an artist's place in regards to art movements, whether the artist acknowledges belonging to a movement or not.

For further discussion, here's a related talk on Zorn and Impressionism by an exhibition director from the National Museum of Stockholm:

P.S. Would it be possible to share a link to the Korovin memoir if it's available online? Спасибо большое. :)

James Gurney said...

Hi, Laura, thanks for the link to the Zorn video. I didn't know you spoke Russian! You're amazing. I don't know where Mel found that memoir. Mel, if you're reading this, maybe you can share the link.

Mel Gibsokarton said...

Hello again, and sorry for being a bit late with this. The account is taken from Konstantin Korovin's book called "Константин Коровин вспоминает..." (Konstantin Korovin reminisces...). It does not have an english translation, and you can either track down a copy or get it from, like I did. I wouldn't share a direct link, but you can copy the russian title in the searchbox and you'll find it.

Unknown said...

Great post, much appreciated.