The Art of Anders Zorn

I Sangkammaren by Anders Zorn

Swedish born Anders Zorn (February 18, 1860 – August 22, 1920) is an artist who will stop you in your tracks with awe. Such simplicity in his strokes while at the same time such volume and character.

This is art that will make you immediately think.

Righly so, Zorn is one of Sweden’s best known artists.

It’s messy and it’s diverse and it’s cunning and it’s deep. I think the most outstanding thing for me is the natural feeling the surroundings have in the paintings. It feels as though the subjects are at home.

It is clear to see the pride Zorn had in his homeland, and reading about his life, it’s also very evident. In 1896 the Zorn’s decided to move back to Sweden from Paris. They bought land and old cottages in Sweden, and together with his wife established a reading society, parish library, a childrens’ home, the Mora domestic handicraft organization, and a folk music revival that still lasts till this day as one of the most prestigious Folk Music Awards in Sweden.

Zorn had a lot of international acclaim in his life, both for painting and etching, and received many quite amazing opportunities to do portraits of quite prominent members of society. At the Paris World Fair in 1889, the 29-year-old Zorn was awarded the French Legion of Honour. In 1893, the Columbian World Fair was arranged in Chicago of which Zorn was chosen as the superintendent of the Swedish art exhibition. Again, this resulted in many commissions, notably of Presidents: portrait of Grover Cleveland and his wife (1899, National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC), an etching for Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, and a painting of William Taft (1911, the White House). Swedish noteables included many members of the Royal Family, including Queen Sofia (1909, Waldemarsudde, Stockholm).

Froknarna Salomon (The misses Salomon) by Anders Zorn

Froknarna Salomon (The misses Salomon) by Anders Zorn

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Dead Mother by Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele (June 12, 1890 – October 31, 1918) painted Dead Mother in 1910 in Czech Republic.

Let me step back a few moments.

Schiele – as many artists tend to do – lived an alternate type of lifestyle as he explored. For example, when he was younger and his fascination in trains grew, his father (who was the train master in Tullen) was so disturbed by his representation of them that he had to burn his sketch books.

At 16 he was accepted into Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Vienna (1906), to which he was encouraged by the instructors a year after to go to the more formal and traditional academy, Akademie der Bildenden Künste. It is without a doubt that the conservative styles of both academies frustrated Schiele, which ultimately led him to leave 3 years later. Schiele founded the group Neukunstgruppe (“New Art Group”) with other dissatisfied students shortly after leaving Akademie der Bildenden Künste.

Around this time, Schiele found Gustav Klimt (an alumni of Kunstgewerbeschule), who happily took interest in Schiele, encouraging him by purchasing his work, trading his work for Schiele’s, and also arranging exhibits and models for the younger artist. It was at this time that Schiele met Walburga (Wally) Neuzil, a young lady who would be the model for many of his future works and partner for some time. Around 1911 they were chased out of Český Krumlov (Krumau) in southern Bohemia (Czech Republic) – the birthplace of Schiele’s mother – because the residents strongly disapproved of their lifestyle, not to mention their employment of the town’s teenage girls as models (allegedly).

In 1912 Schiele was arrested for seducing a young girl below the age of consent. Hundreds of his drawings were seized because they were considered pornographic, but the charges of seduction and abduction were dropped. However, during the trial, the judge burned one of the offending drawings over a candle flame.

It is tragic to learn that the Spanish flu pandemic (which took 20,000,000 lives in Europe) took Schiele’s pregnant wife of 4 years (not Wally), and Schiele himself 3 days afterwards at the age of 28.

Dead Mother

It is interesting to note that Dead Mother is part of the Expressionist movement, a symbolic painting that clearly has influence by psychoanalysis. Austrian neurologist and founding father of psychoanalysis, Freud (May 6, 1856 – September 23, 1939), was becoming very eminent in theology, and as a result, all society. This reasoning process, and identification led to some very astounding revelations in many genres of expression, particularly in art.

It is almost too easy to identify certain aspects of Schiele’s life with this painting. His eldest sister died at the age of 10, when Shiele was just 3 years old. His father died in 1904, when he was 14, and his mother had lost a child at birth and also had a stillborn. To further complicate things, his mother married his fathers brother-in-law (this fact seems odd).

Morbid is the word, dark and tortured.

Photo source:

Photo source:


Ides of March by Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly was born Edwin Parker Twombly, Jr. (b. April 25, 1928) in Lexington, Vigrinia.  He adopted the nickname of Cy from his father, who adopted his nickname after the notorious Cy Young (Twombly’s father was a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox).

Twombly began studying art at the age of 12, and spent the next dozen years in various fine art schools and receiving scholarships around the world. In 1951 Twombly had his first solo exhibition in New York at the Samuel M. Kootz gallery, which catapulted his international career and success as an artist. Shortly after this exhibition he, along with Robert Rauschenberg, received a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to travel North Africa, Spain, Italy, and France, after which he began his short career as a teacher at the Southern Seminary and Junior College in Buena Vista, Virginia – 1954. In 1957 Twombly moved to Rome where he met his wife Baroness Tatiana Franchetti, sister to the art patron Baron Giorgio Franchetti, where he spent the better part of the rest of his life painting.

It was around 1955 – 59, that Twombly worked and shared art spaces in New York with a group of artists including Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, being influenced by the teachers at the art school he was attending, Franz Kline, Ben Shahn, and Robert Motherwell. Here Twombly began to develop a technique of gestural drawing that appeared to be scratched into the surface. He was also heavily influenced by African tribal art, and practiced sculptures made of discarded objects to try and evoke this style.

Cy Twombly’s work often invoke romantic symbolism, using titles from classical myths and allegories as the work Ides of March has, along with other works like Birth of Venus, or Leda and the Swan to name a few. Further, Twombly used epic poetry and metaphors heavily in and as inspiration for his work. Around the mid-1950s, Twombly started to portray more graphic material in his pieces with erotic signs, intense and dense colours, ejaculations of paint, wounds and scoring.

“Over the surface of his Roman paintings would thus appear so many cocks and cunts, so many wounds and scorings, so many tatters played over the surface of the work, the erotics of which is that its body will never be reconstituted, whole.” ~Rosalind Krauss

While in the mode of creating, Twombly would cover an entire room with a canvas, and approach it however his desire fancied. After he had covered every wall with paint, he would cut out a section that looked as if it could be used, which he would nail to the wall.

Ides of March was completed in 1962 and is styled as an abstract expressionism figurative painting.


Ides of March by Cy Twombly | Source:



The Sick Child by Edvard Munch

The Sick Child , or Det Syke Barn in Norwegian, by Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is a painting with an interesting story. Munch created a number of lithographs, drypoints, etchings, and of course paintings with this same name from 1885 to 1926. The paintings represent Munchs sister, Johanne Sophie, the moment before she passed from tuberculosis at the age of 15.

The grieving woman is reportedly their aunt Karen, and typically in the various works Johanne Sophie is propped up by large pillows, a look of agony upon her face. It is also interesting to note the looming curtain drawn slightly on the right; perhaps the symbol of death itself, and the covered mirror behind the pillows.

Art critic Patricia Donahue had a very interesting observation: “It is almost as though the child, knowing that nothing more can be done, is comforting a person who has reached the end of her endurance” [Donahue, Patricia. “Nursing, the Finest Art: An Illustrated History”. St. Louis, MO: Mosby, 1996. 433.]

The paintings themselves have a very strong expression. The greens and yellows represent sickness, reds the dramatic (and coughed up blood from late stages of tuberculosis). You can notice strong vertical strokes from the brush, built up on layers of impasto paint [it is reported that these thick layers of paint are because of repeated reworking of the image, rather than a unique technique]. This style expresses emotive power, as if blurry eyed and hazy.

Munch has wrote that the 1885–86 painting was such a difficult struggle that its completion marked a major breakthrough in his art: “I started as an Impressionist, but during the violent mental and vital convulsions of the Bohême period Impressionism gave me insufficient expression—I had to find an expression for what stirred my mind … The first break with Impressionism was the Sick Child—I was looking for expression (Expressionism).” [Eggum, 46]

Interesting factual note that the Nazis felt Munch’s paintings were degenerate art and forcibly removed from all German museums.

This is the second of the six paintings completed by Munch, painted in 1896 when Munch was living in Paris.

The Sick Child by Edvard Munch in 1896

The Sick Child by Edvard Munch in 1896

More reading: Edvard Munch
The wikipedia page on The Sick Child is heavily referenced in this article.

Lamentation by Giotto

The Deposition by Giotto - 1305

Ambrogiotto di Bondone (1266 – 1336), known to all as Giotto, is perhaps the single most influential figure in art. He was the light that emerged from the Middle Ages. He was the single man to bring painting from dark and dingy corners hidden in the medieval times, into the lofty spaces of churches and noble walls. Giotto was of the Florentine school of art.

Giotto was a religious painter, and was the first to connect dramatic stories with living people. He was also the first to give movement to figures, the first to make the sacred matter of art incontrovertibly real and true, believing in the miracle of life and through observing the effect of the miracle of his fellow men.

The majority of Giotto’s work was done in frescoes: watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and become fixed.  Because of the solidity of this method, his paintings till exist today though some undoubtedly have flaked off.

Lamentation is located inside of The Arena Chapel. A rectangular shaped box with Gothic windows on one side, and a barrel vault shaped ceiling. There is speculation that Giotto had directed it’s building, for the wall surfaces make an unhindered canvas for his works. Giotto divided the walls into even squares, depicting 36 scenes of the life of Christ. Lamentation is scene 20. It is said it took him a total of 4 years to complete all the paintings.

Giotto’s revolutionary technique is probably most recognized in how he animated figures. What was once always flat perspectives suddenly, with Giotto’s invention, became animated and 3D. Clothing upon the subjects had volume and wrinkles and rolled off shoulders in folds.

In Lamentation, or The Deposition, there is no background or landscape. The scene takes place in a rocky space of land, where men and women surround Christ, lamenting – note emotionally – the loss of his life. Every line of the painting, every gesture of the painting directs the viewers eyes towards Christ resting on the knees of the Virgin. Mary Magdalen holds his feet, St. John leans forwards, Joseph stands behind Magdalen, and grief-stricken angels float above.

The Deposition by Giotto - 1305

The Deposition by Giotto – 1305

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt

Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt

In 1632, Rembrandt created The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. In this creation, Rembrandt captured Dr. Tulp in the middle of explaining to fellow Dr.s and patrons the musculature of the arm.

Some say this may be the first time Rembrandt ever signed a painting with his surname, which can be seen in the upper left hand corner. His signature had previously just been RHL (Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden).

It is interesting to note that the official City Anatomist of the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons permitted only one public dissection a year. This body had to be the body of an executed criminal. So, experts have thus dated this event to be January 16, 1632, a day designated for this to be undertaken. With this information, historians are also able to identify the corpse to that of the criminal Aris Kindt (aka. Adriaan Adriaanszoon), a man convicted of armed robbery, sentenced to death by hanging.

It’s fascinating to know some little facts about this painting, and the authenticity of the scene. For instance, typically a Preparator would be involved in the dissection, who would prepare the cadaver for the dissection. This person is not present in the painting. Also, because Dr. Tulp was the Official City Anatomist, he wouldn’t be involved in menial – and bloody – tasks like dissection. This is indicated by the fact that there are no cutting instruments shown in the image, and also by the presence of the giant medical book in the lower right of the painting.

Rembrant himself is a very interesting man. He rose from very humble beginnings to surpass most others in portraiture painting, only to renounce fame in order to liberate himself from moneygrubbing. He was a sorrow filled man, especially in his later years. Three of his children died in infancy, and his wife wasted away while Dutch musketeers were haggling over The Night Watch, another of Rembrants works. He spent the last years of his life bankrupt in the Amsterdam ghetto, tended by his loyal housekeeper. But, historians say he died full of peace, knowing that he was his own man.

Rembrandt was a master of light and dark. The luminosity of his images were like no other before, and like very few since. Truly a master. I love the rosy red tinge to the faces of all those present, which might be accounted to it being mid January. I find it interesting the clothing of all of those present. What I like to illuminate is what’s not illuminated in the painting, the background. It shows us how much Rembrandt focused on shading, which also amplified the magnificence of the subjects.

The painting is located in Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the Netherlands.

Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt

Anatomy Lesson of Dr Tulp by Rembrandt


Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Brueghel the Elder

Pieter Brueghel the Elder ( 1525? – 1569 ) was a Flemish painter fascinated with the idea of making peasant life into artistic scenes of poetry and drama. He thrived on intimate peasant habits, industrial conflicts, and spiritual practices of the time.

When Brueghel was a young man, he traveled over the Alps to Italy to learn from the Italian masters. However, what he did learn was that he was a Northerner through and through, and didn’t take much from the leads of the Italian masters. However, what he did fall in love with was the landscapes of the Italians. Brueghel effectively snubbed the Italian art that was beginning to so enthuse the other Flemish artists in the North. This mentality of Brueghel was aligned with the elder Flemish artists who had for so long fought to create a unique style.

Pieter Brueghel reportedly had an ironic sense of humor, which translated into his landscapes.  The natural backgrounds with such vastness and insight into life are truly breathtaking. Hunters in the Snow takes the viewers eye naturally through the landscape, to observe every nuance of the painting. I personally always start in the foreground, in the front left and sweep my way right and back. Those cliffs are what legends are made of, the distant port in the background, and the frozen canals and creeks that sweep through the landscape provide for my imagination boundless dreams that I would love to walk along and explore.

The thing I am most curious about though, is did they really have skates back then?

This painting was part of a series of landscape paintings started by Brueghel, of which only 5 were finally completed before his death. They all were themed around peasant going about chores and other daily activities. It was done with oil on a wooden panel. Apparently, there are firemen putting out a chimney fire in the background somewhere, which I cannot see..

The painting now resides with a collection in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, located in Vienna, Austria. This painting is an example of the Northern Renaissance movement.

Pieter Brueghel the Elder - Hunters in the Snow - 1565

Pieter Brueghel the Elder – Hunters in the Snow – 1565


California Artist by Robert (Bob) Arneson

Robert Arneson was born in Benicia, California in 1930. He received his MFA in 1958 at California College of the Arts: Oakland, California. In his early employed life he was a cartoonist for a local newspaper. He was a professor of ceramics in the Art department at UC Davis for 40 years.

It’s safe to say Robert Arneson was a Californian Artist.

In the 60s, as a lot of radical artistic movements were explored, Arneson developed a new movement in art called the Funk Movement. For Arneson, this meant pushing away traditional ideals for ceramics, in that they must be utilitarian or decorative. This led Arneson into non-functional ceramics like portraits with feeling, humanity, and humor… almost whimsical.

Arneson was influenced by many artists in California and abroad with radical and blunt ideals. This included writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Pynchon, Tom Robbins and William Burroughs, or artists like Peter Voulkos.

California Artist was created in 1982, and is stoneware with glazes measuring 68 1/4 in. x 27 1/2 in. x 20 1/4 in. It currently sits in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). It was a mocking response to an art critic from New York who felt Arneson was too easily pleased with his own jokes. The critic was not impressed by the cultural life of the Californian artist.

It is interesting to note that if one peers into the eyes of California Artist, they can see into the empty head of the stoneware.

California Artist by Robert Arneson | Source:

California Artist by Robert Arneson | Source: Richard Pelletier

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Christ in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese

1573 - Paolo Veronese - Christ in the House of Levi

In 1573 one of the great Venetian masters Paolo Veronese (Paolo Cagliari of Verona) finished Christ in the House of Levi. The painting depicts a merry scene, with courtly jesters and the elite of Venice surrounding Christ for a marvelous feast.

Originally this painting was titled Last Supper, however, since the painting was created in the height of Counter Reformation it received much criticism from the Holy Office of the Inquisition because it showed creatures so close to Christ. This prompted accusations of Veronese for impiety, and demanded he make the necessary changes at his own expense. Unwilling to solve this problem by destroying the painting, Veronese simply changed the name of the painting to Christ in the House of Levi which implied a much less formal evening.

The painting depicts an open loggia with giant columns and three monumental arches. In the background through the arches one can see more magnificent buildings of Venice cityscape.

Christ in the House of Levi is 18’6″ x 42’6″, clearly a colossal sized painting, and is painted with oil on canvas. It resides in Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice.

1573 - Paolo Veronese - Christ in the House of Levi

1573 – Paolo Veronese – Christ in the House of Levi

Voices by Jack Shadbolt

jack shadbolt voices
One of my favorite images I’ve ever seen is Jack Shadbolt’s Voices from 1986.

Shadbolt was born in 1909 in England, but developed himself as a prominent artist and teacher in Vancouver in the 1930s, retiring in 1966. Shadbolt has received honourary LL.D. from Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria. He received the Order of Canada in 1972, and was made Freeman of the City of Vancouver in 1990.

Shadbolt’s early influences came from Emily Carr, but his travels and studies have also given him inspiration from various other artists and groups, most notably Joan Miró and Picasso. However various others like: the schools of Paris, British Surrealists Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland, Cézanne, Mexican muralists, American Social Realists and Abstract Expressionists have also influenced Shadbolt in various stages of his career.

Throughout Shadbolt’s career he has use Coast Indian imagery, sparked by Emily Carr, but also due to the fact that it is a visual narrative, a story telling.

The painting is acrylic on canvas with dimensions:
left panel: 117 x 94.5 cm
centre panel: 128.5 x 94.5 cm
right panel: 117 x 94.5 cm

This piece is part of the collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of RBC Dominion Securities.

I highly suggest reading a bibliography of Shadbolt off the VAG site:

jack shadbolt voices