Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Zorn Watercolor Portrait

Before he became better known as an oil painter, Zorn worked primarily in watercolor, and explored his fascination for traditional culture by documenting figures in regional dress.

Anders Zorn, Little Girl in Traditional Dress, 1883
Zorn had enrolled in the the Royal Swedish Academy in Stockholm at the age of 15. His friend and fellow artist, Bruno Liljefors, wrote in his memoirs:
"When I was nineteen years old, I came to the Stockholm Art Academy. In the middle of a new world among a host of young artists…I perpetually heard the name Zorn mentioned, and it was enveloped in an aura of wonder and admiration…If anyone asked what it was that caught us in the work, whether it was a trick of coloring, something original or modern, we could only answer: “It is so damned good.”
 Book: Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter

5 comments:

Jim Douglas said...

"Did you know that before Zorn was better than you at oil painting, he was better than you at watercolor? It's true. Just look and see."
This is how I read today's blog post. Like his contemporaries Sargent & Sorolla, Zorn's artwork is "so damned good" that it simultaneously depresses and inspires me. Simply magical. These guys make the Dos Equis man & Chuck Norris feel inferior. :)

Peter Drubetskoy said...

Jim Douglas, I hear you, but... recently a fellow artist (a great artist, btw!) said something a bit dismissive of Zorn and Sargent - to the tune of their work being all about how well they painted. There is truth to it, I have to admit - it is the conundrum of virtuosity familiar from the world of music as well. Quite often the virtuosi are admired for their skill but do not end up producing the most revolutionary and memorable works of art (from the extent of my familiarity with Zorn and Sargent I would venture to say this critique applies more to the former.) As an art student I of course can't help but salivate looking at their work but then look who the real start painters: Van Gogh, Picasso, Matisse, to name a few, who were not as virtuosic or not at all. The bad(?) news is that while one can at least hope to achieve virtuosity with enough hard work, there is no recipe for achieving the je ne sais quoi of artistic greatness :)

Mel Gibsokarton said...

James Gurney, can you tell how exactly a watercolor like this was made? It looks so seamless. Is it just the case of a great lot of near-transparent and ultra-thin washes?

James Gurney said...

Mel, I wish I knew how he did this. I presume there's no special trick; just solid fundamentals.

Peter and Jim, to me the true virtuosity of Sargent and Zorn, especially their early work, is how they convey so much with so little and how hide their artifice--"Ars est celare artem."

Peter Drubetskoy said...

I love Zorn (those etchings!!!) but for me Sargent is the superior watercolorist. In the recent years NYC was graced with the show of Sargent watercolors at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and a retrospective of Zorn at the National Academy Museum, so I saw both in person. Sargent's watercolors definitely "convey so much with so little", as James says, but that cannot be always said of Zorn's. Zorn dazzles but, again, at times he really overwhelms one with his virtuosity, so, the effect is that of listening to an amazingly executed but long and meandering guitar solo. One piece in particular - Summer Vacation - comes to mind. This piece almost made me visually sick! I could not look at it without my head hurting at some point! Compare to Sargent's water scenes - say, this one - and the difference in approach is obvious. Sargent can dazzle with sheer virtuosity too - the "Escutcheon" or the "Crocodiles", for example - but these invite me to examine and cherish them. Not trying to start a Zorn vs Sargent argument, just wanted to illustrate a certain point :)