Anders Zorn

Exhibition at Sven-Harris Konstmuseum, Stockholm

About the artist and the exhibition

Anders Zorn (1860-1920) is one of the most famous Swedish painters. He started his career as a portrait painter and watercolourist but is today best known for his nudes in nature, both watercolours and oils. He had long been fascinated with the light on water which he from  1880 onwards combined with a female nude by or in the water. These are very sensual realistic paintings.

He also made sculpures and etchings.

This exhibition shows watercolours, oils, etchings, sculptures and photographs that are rarely shown to the public. The works come from the Zorn Museum in Mora and from private collections.


Light on Water – Watercolours

I was instantly fascinated by one of the first watercolours in the exhibition:

Anders Zorn, watercolour, 1886

I am spell bound by the light in this. It is almost as if the light emanated from the picture. How did he do this?! I know it has to do with contrast, but how?

A closer look reveals the colours he used to build up the water. It looks a blue grey with white highlights, but there is actually surprisingly little real blue and white in it. Most of the marks contain a fair amount of brown.

Detail from above

The dark marks are a dark grey, the lighter colours in the shadow a grey with hints of brown in some areas, sometimes verging on green. The really surprising thing here however are the whites. In the part that looks brightest Zorn broke the white with cool colours, further out to the sides they get warmer.

Detail from above

These coloured whites in contrast to the dark marks give the impression of light playing and glittering on the water.


Etchings – the use of lines

In the etchings displayed at the exhibition the most striking thing was Zorn’s use of lines. He uses very prominent roughly parallel lines to build up tone which then forms the image.

Anders Zorn: King Oscar II, 1898

In the coat of King Oscar Zorn drew the marks straight from the shoulders down, across lapel and all. Only in the forearm the direction is altered. I am surprised to see that this works! Combined with the coarse shadows it gives the impression of a dark coat in strong sunlight. In the face and the hat the marks are finer and their direction follows the planes of the face/hat. They are still very rough but also precise in that they leave patches of light that model the face. There are more tones here, from very dark around the eyes, lips and below the hat over a variety of dark and light tones to white. E.g. there is a light shift to a lighter tone just over the brow or a slight difference in tone between the mustaches on the lit and the shadow side. The contrast in detail between face and coat is striking and I think important in order to make the face the focal point. This is stressed further by the background which mostly is a simple line drawing.  The roughness of the drawing surely says something about the subject. Not knowing anything about King Oscar II I had him down as an old salt.

There is an other etching I studied more closely as it is very different from this one. It is of Queen Sophia:

Anders Zorn: Queen Sophia, etching 1909

This portrait has an altogether different character. Sophias dress is of a light colour and Zorn drew lines only in shadowed areas. Cross hatching is used very sparingly and then in a much calmer way than in the coat of King Oscar. Here the lines are mostly parallel or fanning out following the drapes of the dress. In the face, too, the lines are calmer, and are kept roughly vertical. This makes her features fine and smooth.

IMG_6208 (2)
Detail from above

As the figure here is light, the background is kept dark, but the contrasts in dress and face tell about a strong light falling on her, maybe through a window.



It was very interesting to study these etchings. I am surprised at the level of detail Zorn is able to express using mainly parallel lines. Especially in the portrait of King Oscar. They look hastily drawn and sketchy but it is obvious that he knew exactly where shadows and lights are and what tones he could produce. I often don’t and so find it easier to search for the shape by filling areas with graphite. This hatching technique, I imagine, is only effective if I know from the start where I want darks or lights.

I am not entirely sure whether I like the striped effect of the lines. I am impressed with the craftsmanship of the drawings, but the strong parallel and directional lines disturb me. I am more comfortable with a looser approach, crisscrossing maybe or a less overpowering application of hatching. Still, I plan to try it out for myself.



  • Homepage, Anders Zorn museum, Mora, Sweden:
  • Homepage Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. Exhibition description:



One thought on “Anders Zorn

  1. I too have been looking at Zorn by visiting the Zorn museum in Mora this week. He was a true master and there are always lessons to be learned from looking at his work.


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