Anders Zorn was born in Mora on 18th February 1860. His mother was called Grudd Anna Andersdotter and came from a family of smallholders in Mora. His father was a German brewer by the name of Leonard Zorn whom his mother met whilst seasonally employed at a brewery in Uppsala. There was no question of a marriage and Zorn grew up instead with his mother and her parents in Utmeland village in the Mora district. Leonard Zorn admitted paternity but never met his son. He died in 1872.
At the age of 12 Zorn was sent to a school in Enköping. His considerable artistic talent had already manifested itself by this time. Three years later he therefore sought admission to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. To begin with he thought of becoming a sculptor but soon the painting of watercolours gained the upper hand. This was to be his sole medium up to 1887.
In 1880 at the exhibition of art students' work he made a name for himself with the watercolour In Mourning (National Museum). A number of well off people in Stockholm had already become aware of Zorn's talents and had commissioned portraits from him. it was in connection with such a commission that he met his future wife Emma Lamm. She came from a well-to-do jewish merchant family with strong cultural interests. The Zorn couple secretly got engaged while they waited for him to gain a secure livelihood.
Zorn spent the following four years abroad and, in particular, in England and Spain. He now also had his first exhibitions abroad and gained an international reputation as a portrait painter. In the autumn of 1885 he was in a position to be able to marry Emma Lamm. During the ensuing eleven years the Zorns for the most part lived abroad, at the outset in England and then in Paris. Summers were however spent in Sweden.
Zorn's first years as a married man were very progressive for him as an artist. His watercolour painting reached its zenith with works such as The Thornbush (Zorn Collections) and Summer Vacation (private collection, sketch in Zorn Collections). A series of exuberant works from the harbour of Constantinople also belong to this period together with his best known watercolour Our Daily Bread commissioned by the National Museum and painted in Mora in 1886.
During a visit to St Ives in England in the winter of 1887-88 Zorn changed to painting in oils and this proved to be an immediate success. One of his earliest works in oils Fishermen in St Ives was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1889 and was purchased by the French state. A large number of paintings were produced during the following years and they served to confirm Zorn's place on the international artist scene. During the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889 Zorn was awarded the Legion of Honour.
Above all Zorn's reputation was derived from his work as a portrait painter. Many of his portraits were painted in the USA where he gained an almost unbelievable success. Bankers, captains of industry and politicians were prepared to pay astronomical sums to be painted by him. Even presidents featured amongst them, Grover Cleveland (National Portrait Galley, Washington DC) and William Taft (The White House, Washington DC). Furthermore, a portrait of a third president Theodore Roosevelt was made by Zorn in the form of an etching.
In fact it was just Zorn's etchings that contributed particularly to his success. With Rembrandt as his artistic role model he developed a masterful etching technique where he builds up his motif with a multitude of lines. In total he produced 289 different etched works.
At the end of the eighteen eighties Zorn began to work in the genre which would come to characterise him more and more - the study of the nude in the open air. The movement of water and the reflection of light on its surface had interested him for a long time; but now he made the motif more complicated by placing a model in or by the water and attempted to portray a synthesis between nature and the human form. In paintings such as Outside (The Gothenburg Museum of Art), A Premier (several versions, inter alia in The National Museum) and Les baigneuses (private collection, also a version in the Zorn Collections) he conveys a new sensuality to classic nude painting.
In 1896 the Zorns came home to Sweden and Zorngården (The Zorn Home) in Mora, which was already under construction. This brought with it an increased interest in his home surroundings which then began to feature in his paintings. When it comes to Zorn's scenes from the Mora area with its local people and ancient traditions the painting Midsummer Dance (National Museum) was the one that he gave his highest rating. The paintings Herdsmaid (1908), Dance in Gopsmor Cottage (1913) and Christmas Morning Service (all three in the Zorn Collections) also belong to his best known works in this genre.
The Zorns also acted as patrons in different connections and not least on their own home ground. It was thanks to this commitment that Mora Adult Education Centre (Folkhögskola) came into being and received both financial and active support from them.
During the last years of his life Zorn's health deteriorated more and more and he died in Mora on 22nd August 1920 and was buried in the graveyard of Mora church.