Anders Zorn what’s in a name ? Possibly the learned and amiable father of Tristram Shandy or that formidable pedant Professor Slawkenbergius might find much to arouse his interest in the patronymic of the great Swedish painter and etcher. What Zorn means in his native tongue we do not profess to know; but in German it signifies anger, wrath, rage. Now, the Zorn in life is not an enraged personunless some lady sitter asks him to paint her as she is not. He is, as all will testify who have met him, a man of rare personal charm and sprightly humour. He, it may be added, calls yellow yellow, and he never paints a policeman like a poet. In a word, a man of robust, normal vision, a realist and an artist. False realism with its hectic, Zola-like romanticism is distasteful to Zorn. He is near Degas among the Frenchmen and Zuloaga among the new Spaniards; near them in a certain forthright quality of depicting life, though unlike them in technical and individual methods.
Yes, Zorn, that crisp, bold, short name, which begins with a letter that abruptly cuts both eye and ear, quite fits the painter’s personality, fits his art. He is often ironic. Some fanciful theorist has said that the letters Z and K are important factors in the career of the men who possess them in their names. Camille Saint-Saëns has spoken of Franz Liszt and his lucky letter. It is a very pretty idea, especially when one stakes on zero at Monte Carlo, but no doubt Anders Zorn would be the first to laugh the idea out of doors.
We recall an exhibition a few years ago at Venice in the art gallery of the Guarding Reale. Zorn had a place of honour among the boiling and bubbling Secessionists; indeed, his work filled a large room. And what work! Such a giant’s revel of energy. Such landscapes, riotous, sinister, and lovely. Such women! Here we pause for breath. Zorn’s conception of womanhood has given offence to many idealists, who do not realise that once upon a time our forebears were furry and indulged in arboreal habits. Zorn can paint a lady; he has signed many gentle and aristocratic canvases.
But Zorn is also too sincere not to paint what he sees. Some of his models are of the earth, earthy; others step toward you with the candid majesty of a Brunhilda, naked, unashamed, and regal. They are all vital. We recall, too, the expressions, shocked, amazed, even dazed, of some Aniencan art students who, fresh from their golden Venetian dreams, faced the uncompromising pictures of a man who had faced the everyday life of his day. For these belated visionaries, whose ideal in art is to painfully imitate Giorgione, Titian, or Tiepolo, this modern, with his rude assault upon the nerves, must seem a very iconoclast: Yet Zorn only attempts to reproduce the life encircling him. He is a child of his age. He, too, has a perception of beauty, but it is the beauty that may be found by the artist with an ardent, unspoiled gaze, the curious, disquieting beauty of our time. Whistler saw it in old Venetian doorways as well as down Chelsea way or at Rotherhithe. Zorn sees it in some corner of a wood, in some sudden flex of muscle or intimate firelit interior. And he loves to depict the glistening curves of his big model as she stands in the sunlight, a solid reproach to physical and moral anæmia. A pagan, by Apollo!
As an etcher the delicacy of his sheathed lion’s paw is the principal quality that meets the eye, notwithstanding the broad execution. Etching is essentially an impressionistic art. Zorn is an impressionist among etchers. He seems to attack his plate not with the finesse of a meticulous fencing master but like a Viking, with a broad Berserker blade. He hews, he hacks, he gashes. There is blood in his veins, and he does not spare the ink. But examine closely these little prints — some of them miracles of printing and you may discern their delicate sureness, subtlety, and economy of gesture. Fitzroy Carrington quotes the Parisian critic Henri Marcel, who among other things wrote of the Zorn etchings: “Let us only say that these etchings paradoxical in their coarseness of means and fineness of effect manifest the master at his best.”
Coarseness of means and fineness of effect the phrase is a happy one. Coarse is sometimes the needle-work of Zorn, but the end justifies the means. He is often cruel, more cruel than Sargent. His portraits prove it. He has etched all his friends, some of whom must have felt honoured and amused or else offended. The late Paul Verlaine, for example, would not have been pleased with the story of his life as etched by the Swede. It is as biting a commentary one is tempted to say as acid as a page from Strindberg. Yes, without a touch of Strindberg’s mad fantasy, Zorn is kin to him in his ironic, witty way of saying things about his friends and in front of their faces. Consider that large plate of Renan. Has any one so told the truth concerning the ex-seminarian, casuist, and marvellous prose writer of France? The large, loosely modelled head with its fleshy curves, its super-subtle mouth of orator, the gaze veiled, the bland, pontifical expression, the expression of the man who spoke of “the mania of certitude” here is Ernest Renan, voluptuous disdainer of democracies, and planner of a phalanstery of superior men years before Nietzsche’s superman appeared. Zorn in no unkindly spirit shows us the thinker; also the author of L’Abbesse de Jouarre. It is something, is it not, to evoke with needle, acid, paper, and ink the dualism of such a brain and temperament as was Renan’s?
He is not flattering to himself, Zorn. The Henry G. Marquand, two impressions, leaves one rather sad. An Irish girl, Annie, is superb in its suggestion of form and colour. Saint-Gaudens and his model is excellent; we prefer the portrait. The Evening Girl Bathing is rare in treatment – simple, restrained, vital. She has turned her back, and we are grateful, for it is a beautiful back. The landscape is as evanescent as Whistler, the printing is in a delicate key. The Berlin Gallery contains a Zorn, a portrait striking in its reality. It represents Miss Maja von Heyne wearing a collar of skins. She could represent the Maja of Ibsen’s epilogue, When We Dreamers Awake; Maja, the companion of the bear hunter, Ulf helm. As etched, we miss the massiveness, the rich, vivid colour, yet it is a plate of distinction.
Among his portraits are the Hon. Daniel S. Lamont, Senator “Billy” Mason, the Hon. John Hay, Mr. and Mrs. Atherton Curtis, and several big-wigs of several nations. An oil-painting is an impressionistic affair, showing some overblown girls dressing after their bath. The sun flecks their shoulders, but otherwise seems rather inclined to retire modestly. Evidently not the midnight sun.
We have barely indicated the beauties in which the virile spirit of Anders Zorn comes out at you from the wall – a healthy, large-hearted, gifted Swede is this man with the Z.