Sunday, December 1, 2013


Last week, I went round the Anders Zorn exhibition at the Legion of Honor in San Fransisco. It had been years since I caught an exhibition at the Legion, and I'd forgotten how nice the location is. Nestled in the middle of a golf course, set on top of a hill overlooking the ocean and mouth of the bay. It's simply stunning, especially on a nice sunny day, which is what I had.

Till this point, I'd seen very few Zorn original paintings in life.  I'm not sure why that is, perhaps just not paying attention? But for me his peers (Sargent & Sorolla) seem more prevalent in the major museums around the world, especially Sargent's work. It was great to see the exhibition and to learn more about the artist, in some ways it reshaped my views on the artist and his work, in others is sharpened and clarified them.

I was fascinated to learn how successful he had been commanding a salary of $1500 a week. That's   pretty good today, but a fortune in his time. There's some nice photos in the exhibition of him through the years, it's fun to see the clothes from the era and his waistline expand as the years march on. There's also shots of his Swedish home, a log cabin. Over the years he modified and expanded it in keeping with his lucrative success. It reminded me perhaps of a toned down Swedish version of William Randolph Hearst and Hearst Castle. Of course I'm sure that anyone who reaches the point of vast wealth likes to 'trick out their home'!

If I'm honest, Zorns work has never had the same strength or appeal to me as many a Sargent portrait or watercolor.  Nor does his work comes close to the best that Sorolla has to offer, who's beach scenes and his handling of water are hard to beat! Having said that it's hard to criticize, his handling of his 'nymph like' nude models, paddling on the shores of lakes and rivers. They are so beautiful, subtlety rendered and hard to criticize. Additionally his rendering of water both in oil and watercolor is flawless, and astounding to behold.

-->Many art circles now hold the limited 'Zorn palette' in high esteem. He primarily used a palette consisting of Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Medium, Ivory Black plus White. Today many well know contemporary painters use this palette with small editions and modification. A huge range of colors and tones can be achieved with such a minimalist palette, and if used it gives you strong unity of color across your painting.  Having said that I feel, it's a palette that on it's own is perhaps too recognizable, I feel I can always spot a painting using this palette (despite it's versatility). Additionally, over time a body of work painted in these ranges can get limiting. I confess, I had that feeling in the exhibition.
To sum up, I'm really glad I went to the exhibition and enjoyed getting the opportunity to see his work. And it is truly impressive, however for me, (as mentioned earlier) I'd take Sorolla and Sargent above him any day. Perhaps just a statement of the high mark that all 3 artists achieved?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Angus! I didn't know this exhibition was there and it would be great to go see it. (It's a serious drive for me so I am glad your review is positive.) The Legion is such a wonderful venue isn't it? I love their permanent collection too. There used to be a great Sargent portrait there but I recently saw it over at the de Young.I guess they swap things out. Anyway, thanks for the information-it's appreciated.