Anders Zorn was born in Mora, 18 February 1860. His mother was Grudd Anna Andersdotter who came from a family of smallholder farmers in Mora. His father was a German brewer by the name Leonard Zorn whom his mother met whilst seasonally employed at a brewery in Uppsala. There was no question of marriage and Zorn grew up 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 Finland 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, in 1875, he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. To begin with, he thought of becoming a sculptor but soon the painting of watercolours became his passion, and would remain his sole medium until 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 wealthy people in Stockholm had already become aware of Zorn’s talent 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 couple secretly became engaged, while waiting for Zorn to gain a secure livelihood.
Zorn spent the next four years abroad. After a six-month visit to Spain, he settled in London and found success as a portrait painter. In autumn 1885, he was able to marry Emma Lamm (1860–1942). The couple travelled widely over the next two years. In spring 1888, they settled in Paris and would stay eight years and make a series of journeys. Summers were usually spent in Sweden on Dalarö in Stockholm’s archipelago where Emma Zorn’s mother rented a summer house. 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 Museum) and Summer Vacation (private collection, sketch in Zorn Museum). A series of exuberant works from the harbour of Constantinople also belong to this period, as do many pictures from Spain and northern Africa.
During a visit to St. Ives in England, winter 1887–88, Zorn changed to painting in oils and this proved to be an immediate success. One of his earliest oil paintings, Fishermen in St. Ives, was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1888 and purchased by the French state. A large number of paintings were produced during the following years and they served to consolidate Zorn’s position in the international artist scene. During the World Exhibition in Paris, 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 US, where he achieved incredible success during seven visits. 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 Gallery, 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, Zorn’s etchings contributed greatly to his success. With Rembrandt as his artistic role model, he developed a masterful etching technique where he builds up his subject through squalls of lines. In total, Zorn produced 290 etched works.
By the late 1880s, Zorn began working in the genre that would increasingly become his hallmark: 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 subject more complicated by placing a model in or by the water and attempted to portray a synthesis between nature and the human form. In his very best paintings, he conveys a new sensuality to classic nude painting.
Home to Mora
In 1896, the Zorns came home to Sweden and Zorn House 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 areas around Lake Siljan, with its local people and ancient traditions, the painting Midsummer Dance (National Museum) was the one that he gave his highest rating. His most famous genre paintings include Midnight (1891), Herdsmaid (1908), Dance in Gopsmor Cottage (1913), all in the collection of the Zorn Museum. Several years later, 1915, he painted Self-Portrait in Red.
The Zorns were also patrons of many projects, not least in their local area. It was thanks to this commitment that the 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 and he died in Mora, 22 August 1920 and was buried in the graveyard of Mora church.