Talented Friends: An Exhibition on the Works of Zorn and Larsson in Mora

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‘Zorn and Carl Larsson – Art and Friendship’ Exhibition, Zorn Museum, Zornmuseet, Mora, Sweden

It’s funny how sometimes a small town can be famous for some major things.  Mora, quiet, tiny and generally unobtrusive, is famous for three symbols of Swedishness: the Dala Horse (produced in a village nearby), the sturdy, multifunctional Mora knife, and the artist, Anders Zorn.  As the only human in that list, it’s not surprising that he’s, for me, the most interesting.

Oh, and he’s a good artist, at that.

What is quite extraordinary is the fact that Zorn came from very humble beginnings and went on to become a highly paid portraitist, who painted three American presidents.  He was born in a hamlet near Mora, and went to school there before spending five years at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm.

The Zorn Museum has the world’s largest collection of works by the artist and examples are always on show, along with temporary exhibitions.  The museum opened in 1939, in a functional looking building designed by Ragnar Östberg, the architect of Stockholm’s City Hall.  His house is next door.

Zorn started getting commissions from Stockholm society for portraits, and soon met Emma Lamm – an educated and cultured woman from a wealthy Jewish merchant family.  They got married and travelled extensively, including to England and America, and Zorn became an international success.

2019 being the 100th anniversary of Carl Larsson’s death, the Zorn Museum’s summer exhibition explored the two friends works and their relationship.  There was obviously a charming friendship between these two artists, as you can see by some of the jokey drawings they did for each other.  They had very different characters, and their careers took very different paths – Zorn was a sought-after portraitist making vast amounts of money in America and Europe, and Larsson was most famous for his scenes from family life.  To read more about Larsson, you can see my post about my visit to his house in nearby Sundborn.

Anyway, the two men had known each other since their days at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, and over the years, their friendship developed.  Their wives were friends, and the Larsson children would stay with the (childless) Zorns.  Soon after her husband’s death, Karin Larsson wrote to Zorn, “Yes, you have been such an outstanding artist friend to Carl, something that is extraordinary within art history”.  Even they appreciated their own friendship and it’s really sweet to see the birthday pictures and postcards they sent each other.

To start the exhibition, you got to see some early paintings by both Zorn and Larsson, mingled with later works.  It’s interesting to see the picture of Karin painted by Larsson when they were both studying in France – to see him experimenting with the sort of impressionistic style that was fashionable at the time.  Thank goodness he developed his own style soon after.  I just adore Larsson, and there’s not more to say about his works, except that they are always delightful to see in person – reproductions dull their subtle tones and simply don’t do them justice.

There are quite a few examples of the nudes of tubby girls that Zorn was fond of painting.  They don’t interest me.  I am a tubby girl.  I much preferred his pictures of local girls dressed and working.  And his portraits are very striking – his self-portraits are particularly fascinating, because they aren’t necessarily flattering, but do give life to the face you see in photographs.  I also found his watercolours very evocative and attractive, particularly the one of his wife, which is this post’s main picture.  It depicts a humorous moment from early in their marriage, when she wanted to be disentangled from a thorn and he was more interested in painting her.  The incident and the resulting watercolour were clearly significant to them: Emma kept it in her bedroom.

It was also special to see some of the fun items the Larssons made for the Zorns.  The cushion embroidered by Karin for Emma is particularly special, because not a lot of her original works survive, let alone get shown to the public.  The coat of arms designed for Zorn by Prins Eugen and Oscar Björck is amusing – showing four aspects of Zorn in the shield, and crowning it with wine glasses.

Some items from Zorn’s collection of antiquities and jewels were on display, but with little information about them.  Much more interesting was the subsequent gallery with postcards sent by Larsson.  The caricature of the slumped Carl is very cute, but the postcard with the addition of Carl sitting in Sundborn drawing is just too adorable.

So In Summary

Since we had visited Dalarna mainly to go to Carl Larsson’s house, and to experience this magical area of Sweden during the summer, it was perfect for me to finish off my trip with this wonderful exhibition.  It was incredible to see so many of Larsson’s artworks, some instantly recognised, others new to me.  To have these displayed alongside the fine paintings of Zorn just helped to highlight their respective talents in a thought-provoking way.  Larsson’s pictures feel very confident and are like snapshots, perfectly preserving a moment; Zorn’s paintings have a feeling of impermanence, partly because his style is more sketchy, and partly because his best works give you the feeling that you’ve just seen the image before you’ve turned away.  That two such different artists had tremendous respect for each other is a testament to the generous spirit of both men, and that their friendship extended to their families, leading to one of the Larsson girls becoming almost an adopted daughter of the Zorns, is very touching.

Further Information

A neat website for the Zorn Museum and House gives you all the information you might need in planning your visit: www.zorn.se

You have to get tickets for the group tours around Zorn’s house from the museum’s shop.  They do have tours in English, but not as many as in Swedish, so be sure to check the times on the website before going.

How To Get There

Mora is a small town.  The walk from the train station isn’t too far and is a pleasant walk by Lake Siljan.  If you’re coming in from Falun by bus, it’s a few minutes walk to the main shopping street, with the Church at the far end.

Information about public transport is available here – in English: https://sl.se/en/

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