The current exhibition in the European works on paper rotation space (on view until July 31) is Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Painter-Etcher. Featuring all 18 prints in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s collection by Zorn, the exhibition is the first time ever that they have been on view at the same time. This is the second in a series of posts focusing on the exhibition.
Last time, we were introduced to career of Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860–1920). In this post, we’ll consider a few more of his portrait prints.
In the Milwaukee Art Museum exhibition, there are portraits of two members of the Swedish royal family: the King of Sweden, Oscar II (left), and the Crown-Princess Margaret (below), who was married to Gustav Adolf, the grandson of King Oscar. Margaret herself was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England.
Oscar II was a fan of Zorn’s from the artist’s earliest days, when the king tried to purchase a watercolor from him at an exhibition at the Stockholm Academy. The king eventually commissioned some painted portraits from Zorn. Our portrait print is not based upon any of those paintings. It shows the king at leisure, enjoying his yacht—he is even wearing a captain’s hat. It seems appropriate to use the intimate scale of an etching to capture the head of state.
As I mentioned in the last post, Zorn was not averse to combining etching with other techniques. In his portrait of Oscar he uses aquatint to get overall tone in the bottom of the jacket, which contrasts to the strong vertical lines at the top of the jacket. In aquatint, the artist uses a ground that is slightly porous, allowing the acid to etch the surface of the plate in small pits that hold the ink.
And isn’t it clever that Zorn kept the color of the paper in the distinctive shape to show Oscar’s handkerchief poking out of his pocket? He had to be thoughtful in reserving that to be the blank paper.
Zorn’s print of Princess Margaret also shows her in a private setting. In her case, she appears to be at home, perhaps in her library. She has been caught in the moment. You feel like she has just looked up from her book.
Her mouth is slightly open, as if she is about to say something. Zorn has included subtle details—such as the way the Princess fingers her necklace—to show us that despite her elevated stature, she is just as human as anyone else and has unconscious habits.
In fact, Zorn was critically acclaimed for his ability to capture a moment in time. His active, sketchy style lends itself to doing this. For instance, take Zorn’s portrait of the sculptor Prince Paul Troubestzkoy. The prince was well-known in Europe for his Impressionistic sculptures and his exotic background—he was the son of a Russian prince and American mother, and he was raised in Italy.
Troubestzkoy’s piercing gaze is particularly arresting as he looks directly out of the image. But what is really fascinating about this print is Zorn’s interesting twist on the role of viewer—Troubetzkoy is working on a bust of Zorn, who in turn looks back at his friend while working on this etching. It’s almost as if the subject matter is less a portrait of Troubetzkoy and more the action of art making.
Also, a look around the setting raises an intriguing question—just whose studio are we in? Facing us directly while it sits on the floor is a painting of a female nude. That Zorn included this in his print is a kind of inside joke to collectors, because the female nude was one of his favorite subjects (more about this in a future post). Accordingly, the artists are most likely working in Zorn’s studio.
Stay tuned for our next post, because we’ll consider an important subject that interested Zorn: the modern life of Europe.
Catherine Sawinski is the Assistant Curator of European Art. When not handling the day-to-day running of the European art department and the Museum’s Fine Arts Society, she researches the collection of Ancient and European artwork before 1900.