Friday Art: Sommarnöje by Anders Zorn (1886)

Good God, I thought Winslow Homer was a genius with watercolor, and then I discovered this guy. Look at that water…. the gentle waves, the subtle reflection of light, the dock, the boat… the shadows…. all of it, really.

Look at the fine detail on the wood of the rowboat, the dock. The near photographic realism of the two human figures and their clothes. (The woman is Zorn’s wife.)

And then remind yourself it’s a watercolor. How pointy this guy’s brushes must have been.

Zorn was Sweden’s most famous artist, a contemporary of John Singer Sargent who overlapped a lot of the same subject matter. He’d do portraits of three US Presidents (Cleveland, Taft, Teddy Roosevelt) and the King of Sweden, along with other such figures. He’d paint a lot of full bodied nudes as well (Cleveland, Taft, Teddy Roosevelt… wait, just kidding). He abandoned watercolor not too long after painting this one to switch to oils, but his early watercolor work is amazingly impressive, like this one. “Summer Delight” (the English translation) currently holds the record for most expensive Swedish painting, selling for the US equivalent of 3.5 million in 2010.

He’s good with oils too, isn’t he? This one, “Waltz” from 1981 hangs in the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, but I have no memory of seeing it there many years ago. Ah well, I guess I wasn’t paying enough attention. I like how it depicts a fancy ballroom dance party divided – the brightly lit dance floor to our left, and behind a partially drawn curtain, a dimly lit section with only that lone lamp reflecting off the floor for couples to whirl away towards perhaps more intimate romance away from the madding crowd, akin to the ways in which I remember junior high make-out parties delineating territory. Nice to know some things never change.

That guy better be a good dancer to avoid stepping on the enormous train of his partner’s dress, though.


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