Americans love Zorn
Personal reflections after a magnificent exhibition and kudos to the work of its benefactors and creators.
With but one week remaining in San Francisco, the Zorn retrospective 'Anders Zorn: Sweden's Master Painter' has been a stunning success, fulfilling its purpose to acquaint many Americans with the still relevant and rewarding oeuvre of one of Sweden’s greatest artists.
While observing the attendees and watching their examination of brushstrokes and details, I overheard their comments to each other, or asked them questions, and two things were apparent: 1) how many people had never heard of Zorn; and 2) now how many would not forget him. Many remarked on how amazed they were at his virtuosity that they would tell all their friends. Many were visiting the show for the second or third time before it departs; others had brought new friends to the exhibit.
Second only to Zorn, this triumph was the work of Sweden’s Consul General in San Francisco, Barbro Osher. More than her munificence and that of her husband, Bernard Osher, this success was the result of more than a decade of her patience and persistence driven by her desire to share this remarkable Swedish talent with fellow Americans. One recalled from the exhibit’s opening, Dede Wilsey’s story of the late John Buchanan, then executive director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), calling Wilsey just before a board meeting to say he would be absent, because he was with the Oshers in Mora, Sweden, viewing one of the most remarkable artist’s works, for whom he must mount a massive retrospective at FAMSF.
Many changes occurred during that intervening decade resulting in the exhibit that closed in San Francisco on February 2, only to open from February 27 through May 18, 2014 in New York City at the National Academy. All of these unforeseen occurrences resulted in this likely being the greatest retrospective of Zorn that will be produced. It is unlikely that a collection spanning media, genres and classic representatives from all his periods will ever be reassembled as comprehensively as this.
Included in the show is the piece “Reveil, boulevard Clichy,” which was only recently discovered when Stockholm’s Bukowskis auctioned it off to another personal collection. But because of that good fortune, the piece is in this show and on the cover of the exhibit catalogue, which Bukowskis printed.
A similar stroke of good fortune, making the gathering of these treasures unique, was the closing of Sweden’s Nationalmuseum for renovation, which allowed such paintings as Zorn’s “Midsummer Dance,” a national treasure, to be exhibited in this show. And because this was a U.S. exhibition, that made many of Zorn’s works, painted here during his seven trips to the U.S. for commissions and exhibitions, available for this monumental show. It was similarly fortuitous that last year the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, memorializing one of his generous patrons, produced an earlier Zorn exhibit from their holdings.

Thank you, Consul General Barbro Osher
In the end, though, as throughout the entire course of the exhibition, it was Consul General Barbro Osher to whom all gratitude was owed and expressed, for introducing an entire generation of Swedish-Americans—and even more importantly, Americans of diverse heritages—to the remarkable talent of Anders Zorn and resuscitating his fame for years to come. In the end, it is generations of women who have kept Anders Zorn’s art and fame alive for us to enjoy today: Emma Zorn, Gerda Boëthius, Birgitta Sandström established the collection; Barbro Osher has extended that treasure to another continent and a new generation.
Jim Ganz of FAMSF was mightily impressed with the reception of this exhibit. It far surpassed the anticipated attendance and shop sales. The catalogue alone went through three printings, the soft covered edition sold out with but a few hard covers left. The symposium itself was sold out and had to turn away people before it opened. Both the visitors’ appreciation of and the collectors’ investments in Zorn’s art evidently have appreciated greatly. Ganz couldn’t be happier.
Similarly, Cederlund expressed his pleasure in working with his San Francisco colleagues from the beginning; throughout the decade he was continually impressed by their consummate professionalism. He was particularly proud of the symposium for its variety of topics and perspectives. With such an auspicious beginning in San Francisco, he looks forward to a similar reception on the east coast.


A Personal Postscript
I grew up with Zorn’s folks. In the early 20th century, the Christmas journal, Julstämning (from 1906 on) featured great art from Sweden. This was especially cherished by Swedish immigrants in America for providing them their native cultural tonic. The photos of the art were meticulously printed and glue-tipped onto the pages. Dad removed some of these and framed them as art reproductions, where women in native garb hung on the bare wooden walls of our rustic Sveadal stuga. As a little boy I often studied these pictures. Never asking about the artist or the story behind them, I just assumed they were Swedish relatives!
Later when I first traveled to Sweden after college, I visited my maternal relatives (the famous Melker’s Falukorv family of Falun). Most of Mormor’s older relatives only spoke Swedish, so we communicated with our eyes and hugs and heaping plates of food, so that I would begin to look like a member of the Falun Olsson family.
Cousins my age spoke English, so there was lots to do and learn. Knowing that I loved Swedish folk dancing from Sveadal, they brought me up to Mora to its famous outdoor dance pavilion, where we danced the night away. I’m sure they mentioned Zorn, but I never made the connection with the paintings in Sveadal. Not until now with this exhibition did I truly learn to appreciate Sweden’s Master Painter. And for that, Barbro, like all of us, I am greatly in your debt.

By Ted Olsson, SanFrancisco