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Modern Masters of Etching
Anders Zorn
Introduction by Malcom C. Salaman

1925
The Studio
44 Leicester Square London

 he pursuit of light was the guiding principle of the art of Anders Zorn. With oil-paint, with water-colours, with etching needle, untiringly he pursued light in its frank or subtle manifestations of life and characteristic beauty of expression in the human figure and the countenances of men and women, and it was these that led his art to its brilliant triumphs. Although he would bring to the copper a painter's vision, he developed with his etching-needle an expressive linear manner in which light would be suggestively vibrant, and so entirely was this his own, and with such true etcher's authority did he use it, that he won a distinguished and indisputable place in the front rank of the master-etchers. Indeed it was this individuality of conception in line that gave to the subjects of some of Zorn's finest etchings an intrinsically fresh pictorial vitality, even though as a painter he had already solved their problems of light and its effects. Thus we find acclaimed pictures repeated in etchings, which, quite independently asserting their spontaneity of impression, have proved important factors in establishing the fame of the Swedish master.

Zorn's individuality of expression with the etching-needle, however, took some seven years to evolve. In Stockholm and in Spain he had already practised drawing in water-colours with a certain fluency of accomplishment before he came to London in 1882, and here it was with portraits and other essays in water-colours that he set about earning a livelihood. Art was necessary to the expression of the young man's temperamental joy in life, but he knew he had not yet found his happiest medium. Oil-painting and etching, the two mediums through which he was to become famous, were still for him in the future. Original etching was yet far from being popular, although in London Whistler, Haden and Legros, all active on the copper, were awakening interest in the art. Legros was teaching at the Slade School, Haden, with his masterpieces behind him, had recently founded the society of Painter-Etchers, while Whistler's first "Venice Set" had been two years on the market, yet was selling but slowly. Whether these in any way attracted young Zorn to the copper I cannot say; it was certainly from his elder compatriot, Axel Haig, that he learnt how to use the needle and the mordant. I can hardly imagine that he took his first essays in etching very seriously; they were all translations from water-colours, but, unlike his later practise, he did not then aim at translating into the distinctive idiom of the etcher. The prints, however, had vivacity enough to make it impossible to trace in them any influence of the dull, elaborate competence of genial old Axel Haig. After two years Zorn produced a vivid portrait of Haig himself, though more freedom in its linear treatment marked the Christian Aspelin of the same year; but it was not, indeed, till the year 1889, when he had etched some thirty plates in all, that Zorn began to be really interesting in line. In a portrait of himself at work on his plate he seems to have found himself as an etcher, and then to have successfully tested his discovery with a characteristic presentment of Antonim Proust, Minister of Fine Arts, enjoying a moment of keen interest.

The year in 1889, therefore, auspicated Zorn's career as an etcher of importance, and we find him expressing himself authentically on two very attractive plates, though he had already painted the subject of each, the one in water-colors, the other in the same mediums well as in oils. In Rosita Mauri we are face to face with a beautiful and celebrated Spanish who, introduced by Gounod, became the bright particular star of the opera ballet in Paris. She stands with her hand on a half open-door and a bewitching smile lighting her whole face, as momentarily arresting a graceful movement forward, which she is conscious will give pleasure to an expectant company. A very will-o'-the-wisp is the secret of light and shade with which the etcher's seemingly impromptu lines have wrought this pictorial enchantment. Zorn's etching-needle achieved many subsequent triumphs over the problems of light, but never anything quite like that in Rosita Mauri.

Une Premiere (Plate I) was the earliest of his plates, I think, in which the etcher depicted the nude female form disporting in sea or river, and here, in this tenderly charming picture of the mother guiding protectively her timid child through the wavelets out into the shallows, we see their bodies softly enveloped by the shimmering atmosphere, silhouetted, as it were, against the glistening mass of water between them and the horizon, and this by the mere suggestive power of drawing with closely-laid parallel lines that carry their own illusion of form. Here, then, was the etcher, with developing individuality of style, commanding a new phase of expression on the copper which was to become one of his most distinctive, the expression of his passionate delight in the beauty of woman's form in healthy life.

That, in The Big Brewery, he should reproduce with his etching-needle an important picture which had already engaged him with fresh problems of interior lighting, perspective and composition, showed how thoroughly he was studying to acquire as wide a range of expressive power on copper as on canvas. It was, however, in the delightful Zorn and his Wife (Plate II) that he marked the year 1890 with a really important advance in his art as etcher, and here his own linear technique seems to be definitely established with its independence of outline. It is a charmingly homely scene: the happy young artist at work, his eyes intent on the mirror in front of him to catch the reflection of himself, with his wife standing companionably at his elbow, her eyes focused where his are, his needle in his hand poised for immediate response to the right moment of visual conception. The light and shade are distributed with happy pictorial balance, and the effect of spontaneity is not in any way overruled by the firmness of the design. Shortly after this we find Zorn using the same technique as successfully in a portrait of Jean Baptist Faur�, the famous French baritone of opera, who is seen seated at his piano singing, perhaps one of the charming songs of his own composing. As one looks at the singer's mouth one feels the cultured quality of his singing. There was something about a singing mouth that always appealed sympathetically to Zorn's genius, whether it was that of the trained vocalist of the opera or the drawing-room, the boon-companionable artist with his convivial song, or the Dalecarlian peasant girl singing to the accompaniment of her guitar the traditional ballads of her country.

The year 1891 saw Zorn very busy with his etching, and, besides the Fauré, he wrought three or four plates which claim important rank in his œuvre. Of these the first was The Waltz (Plate III), and it is a remarkable achievement in the suggestion, by the rhythmical arrangement of the lights and darks, of the swirling movement of the dancing figures. He had already explored this problem with tones when painting the picture in oils, but here on the copper it was as a master of contrasting directions of lines in masses that he tackled it afresh and succeeded. This same management of light by the adroit directing of massed lines is the secret of the success with which the etcher suggested, in The Storm, the swift movement of the horse with its rider galloping before the fury of the oncoming tempest. The action of the horse itself would hardly convey the sense of speed that is implied by the lines that bring the road, as it were, toward us, away from the rest of the landscape, and those that give the blustering impetus of the dark cloud-burst behind the horseman. Here, again, is the painter's conception with the etcher's mastery. This we see, too, in The Lady with a Cigarette, in which Zorn has caught and held to the light a charming piquant moment of feminine vivacity and satisfaction, as well as in Madame Simon, one of the most celebrated of Zorn's etchings, and one most highly prized by collectors. In this a comfortable middle-aged woman, with plenty of character doubtless, perhaps a dominant personality, but no particular distinction of air, sits on her chair, self-satisfied, and abides our question, as who should say: "Anders Zorn thought me good enough for a masterpiece; what more can anyone want of me?"

Zorn, always avid for fresh pictorial adventure and experience, found this in a subject that had not so far come into the domain of etching, The Omnibus. Here, as usual, was light, and here was the human being, but in unusual combination - and a very dexterous and original study Zorn made of the aspect of some half-dozen passengers sitting side-by-side in an omnibus en route, played upon haphazard by the interior lamp-light and any chance light from the street. No individual character study was attempted, but the general impression offered fresh material, and the result was brilliantly pictorial. But a far, far greater thing came that same year, 1892, in the Ernest Renan (Plate IV), which is not only Zorn's chef-d'œuvre, but one of the greatest etched portraits of all time, worthy to stand beside Rembrandt's greatest, and Van Dyck's and Whistler's. Turn from the Life of Renan by Madame Duclaux, who knew him so well, or his own Vie de J�sus, or his Souvenirs de Jeunesse, and look at this portrait, and you will find here veritably visualized the inspired writer of books that have been inspirations, the idealist philosopher, the artist, the poet, the scholar, indeed any conception you may have of this Breton-born man of genius. But how was the young Swedish artist, not given much, one has heard, to philosophical reflection about the life he enjoyed so much, or the people who showed him facets of personality that appealed to him, able to give us so wonderfully suggestive a portrait of this intellectual giant of Celtic temperament? Well, it was just an impressionist artist's chance that "came off," every line a fortunate stroke of genius. Zorn himself has told haw Renan, being very ill at the time and near to death, would consent to give him only a single sitting restricted to an hour, and how, being consequently obliged to set immediately to work, and, happening to catch the old philosopher sitting in an attitude that held no suggestion of pose, by happy intuition he began to draw him thus. Though Renan himself disclaimed this attitude as habitual to him, his wife admitted that he always sat like that when he thought he was unobserved. Evidently then, the etcher shows us the great writer in his actual thinking attitude. M. Loys Delteil, in his catalogue of Zorn's etchings, says this great etching was made from a pencil drawing done from life, though Zorn seems to have thought he worked direct on the copper in Renan's presence; perhaps he intended to, but the etching has all the direct and spontaneous appearance of original drawing. With what masterly intuition Zorn has allowed the light its full pictorial play on the venerable head, so that it orders the fewest essential lines to accent the form and expression. Only a great etcher could have responded with those lines.

The Toast (Plate V) is another of Zorn's monumental achievements in transmuting the pictorial vitality of a subject from oil-paint to the printed etching. This is a live and original composition, and it pictures the convivial function in its quiddity. Here is a gathering of the leading writers, artists and scientists of Stockholm to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Idun Society, and the man who founded it, Dr. Wieselgren, Chief of the National Library, and the very personification of geniality, is proposing the toast of the evening. With his glass in one hand, and a good cigar in the other, he is thoroughly enjoying himself, for he is saying things that please him to say and others to hear, if we may judge by the laughing expression of his own eyes and those of the group of convivial scientists behind him, among them Baron Nordenskjöld, the famous explorer. Thirty year of social reminiscence must have evoked many personal allusions that have "set the table on a roar"; he has deliberately turned the laugh against himself, we may be sure; he feels as expansive as he looks; his wit has just got a point home -and the artist, with his genius for the spontaneous impression, has caught the moment alive, and his etching speaks. A work of the same year, 1893, and a remarkable contrast to The Toast, yet showing the wide range of Zorn's impressionistic power of recording aspects of personality, is the portrait of Henry Marquand, the New York banker and art-collector, standing pensively among his possessions. Zorn was to do many portraits of wealthy and important Americans, but he did none more eloquent than this.

The two most important prints of 1894 were the charming Irish Girl, or Annie, with her expressive face in shadow against a bright light background; and My Model and My Boat (Plate VI), perhaps the finest of all his etched studies of the nude female form in the sunny open-air, and certainly the most summary in its linear treatment. With her back to the water, the sailing boat and the rocks, the well-formed model stands, as if in the act of throwing off her bathing wrap before taking her plunge. Beauty of form is here in the lines and curves of the boat as well as the woman, and the sunlight is lord of the scene.

During the next five years Zorn made many etchings, but to my mind there were few of any memorable importance. There was the engaging Effet de Nuit, especially in the third plate, and there were the interesting portraits of Paul Verlaine, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (without his model), M. S. Loeb, a keen-eyed American, Carl Larsson, at work on his copper. There was Old Ballad, and appealing thing in which one feels the song coming simply from the humble singer's mouth and the guitar strings twanging quietly. Song is also the motive of one of the four notable plates of 1900, but here song and singer are on a plane of culture. In Au Piano (Plate VIII), we see the singer, Miss Anna Burnett, an attractive personality in evening dress, with the light at her back and her face in shadow, and the suggestive art of the etcher makes us hear her song. Her notes are full toned, we know by the way she opens her mouth; her singing is expressive, we can see that in her face, and by the way she is holding her hands over the keyboard there can be no question but her accompaniment supports her singing with an artist's feeling. This is one of Zorn's happiest Etchings, a lyric of the copper-plate that sings the charm of song and woman.

Cosmopolitan though he was made by the success of his art, Zorn was always at heart a Dalecarlian. His devotion to his birth land was proverbial; he loved everything connected with it, the peasant-folk, young and old, their life and traditional customs, and not the land only, but the waters that washed its shores. What all this meant to him we realize from the delightful description of the master's home-life which Dr. Karl Asplund has given us in his book, Anders Zorn: His Life and Work, written from intimate personal knowledge; and we gather that a nostalgia for the Swedish scene, whether of cultured society or peasant life, would always call him back from cities abroad that welcomed him and his art to their brilliant circles, and offered him fortune in c exchange for picture and portraiture. But if we had no other means of knowing his love for his own people, we should learn it from his etching, which was his most intimate way of giving it visual expression. Feminine beauty was always an inspiration for Zorn, and between two visits to America in the years 1899 and 1900 he reveled on his copper-plates in the presentation of two types of Swedish beauty, the patrician and the peasant. In Maja we have the charming woman who is conscious that her beauty is as little questioned as her social position; while in Madonna (Plate VII) we have a beautiful peasant woman who has no thought of how she may appear to anybody else, for the baby in her arms supplies the whole meaning and motive of her present existence. In this beautiful etching Zorn has achieved a masterpiece of tenderly human expression.

Typical aspects of life and character among the Dalecarlians would supply the motives of Zorn's etchings more and more frequently as time went on, and he became, as it were, established patriarch in their midst. New Ballad, Musique en famille, The Bridesmaid, Dance at Gopsmor, and then the portrait-studies of young girls and old men of Mora, the beloved home-place; we see in all these that he loved and understood the people, their moods, characteristics and avocations, as well as the pictorial motives of light and composition that they offered. Ida (Plate IX) is one of the plates in which the etcher has been happiest in catching a natural moment of human consciousness, essentially girlish here, and making it pictorially expressive. This Mora peasant girl, as M. Delteil has told us, was a model Zorn would take with him on his special expeditions for the study of the figure in open air, and she would be equally happy peeling potatoes for the master's meal, as we see her doing here by the light of a candle held between her feet, or posing for him as a nude bather in sunlit waters.

Zorn's persistent study of the nude female form, both indoors and out in the open, is a dominant feature in his etched work, and though it is motive of a number of plate in which the etcher's vision has responded to the actuality with a charm of artistic conception and truthful directness of impression, it must be said that some of the etched nudes are commonplace in conception, and were scarcely worth putting on the copper. The Three Sisters, for instance, which the camera could have recorded with equal effect. But this consideration would have influenced Zorn not at all so long as the study and the effort interested him. The sculptor's instinct for solid form, stirred in him by his earliest art-studies, never left him, and in several of his etchings of the nude we find this emphasized. His taste was not always impeccable, but in such a plate as Early Morning, where the woman, just sprung out of bed, stands yawning and stretching her well-formed, healthy body, Zorn shows himself master of an intimate moment of life with a splendidly live piece of drawing, modeling and etching. But the nude studies on the copper which have won popular favour, and are chiefly desired by collectors, are those of the Swedish girls naturally enjoying the sunshine and the lapping waters. These are numerous, and the most attractive, besides those already mentioned, Une Premi�re and My Model and My Boat, are Cerles d'Eau, Summer, Edö, Precipice, Wet, The Swan, and Sappho (Plate XI), the latest of all, and one of the most appealing. There is scarcely more poetry in these than the camera, perhaps, would have suggested, nor, it may be supposed, would Zorn himself have wished to suggest anything but the actuality that he perceived. Beauty of light and form was enough for him; he sought it always in his own independent way as an etcher, and often he found it charmingly.

So with his portraiture: there are portraits of wealthy and important persons he etched, and etched with masterly accomplishment, which leave one cold, whereas there are others, like those of Auguste Rodin, Anatole France, Marcelin Barthelot, the great chemist and Renan's intimate friend, Prince Paul Troubetskoy, August Strindberg, which hold one because the artist's personality has responded expressively to the personality of his subject. Distinguished portraits all these, are fine etchings, but the Mona (Plate X) is far more. It is a noble and beautiful presentment of the artist's mother, and as we look at this monumental etching, in which every line tells expressively, we realise a splendid type of peasant woman, who has met all of life's experience with simple dignity and beauty of character. To compare this portrait of the mother he loved and honoured wit the etcher's last portrait of him-self in a fur-coat offers interesting material for psychological study. There are other portraits too we might study with these, the aged men of Zorn's native place, Djos Mats and An old Soldier, and then Vicke (Plate XII), the Swedish artist, Wicke Andren, singing, to the accompaniment of a lute, one of the joyous songs of Karl Mikael Bellman, the eighteenth-century lyrist, the Burns of Sweden, and Zorn's favourite poet. This is a wonderful etching, filled with the very spirit of song and the joy of singing.

Acknowledgements

The Bath of Psyche
Plate I
Une Première
Etching, 9.25 x 6.25 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate II
Zorn and his Wife
Etching, 12.37 x 8.25 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate III
The Waltz
Etching, 13.12 x 8.87
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate IV
Ernest Renan
Etching, 9.12 x 13.12 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate V
The Toast
Etching, 12.5 x 10.37 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate VI
My Model and My Boat
Etching, 9.12 x 6.12 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate VII
Madonna
Etching, 9.75 x 7.75 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate VIII
Au Piano
Etching, 7.87 x 5.87 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Messrs. P. & D. Colnaghi & Co
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate IX
Ida
Etching, 9.87 x 6.25 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Messrs. P. & D. Colnaghi & Co
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate X
Mona
Etching, 9.75 x 6.87 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Campbell Dodgson, Esq., C.B.E.
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate XI
Sappho
Etching, 8.12 x 7.12 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Messrs. P. & D. Colnaghi & Co
Download: HI-RES image


The Bath of Psyche
Plate XII
Vicke
Etching, 7.87 x 11.5 inches
From a proof in the possession
of Mrs. Anders Zorn
Download: HI-RES image