Monday, March 31, 2014

40 Days of Paintings - Summer Vacation (Anders Zorn)

So I've officially moved into the 19th century realists, and these aren't really in any particular order or chronology.  And today is Anders Zorn's "Summer Vacation" watercolor piece from the early part of his career before he started getting into oils.  I love many of his oil paintings, but this watercolor is my favorite piece of his.  First of all, there is nothing about this image that reads "summer," but it's still so awesome that you really don't even care about the title after just looking at the work. 
I can't really stress how amazed I am that this is a watercolor piece.  It is a medium I have very little practice with myself, so the technical precision and detail of this picture amaze and baffle me.  I don't understand how watercolor can be manipulated in such a way that it can end up being realism.  It is a fairly large size for a watercolor piece, but still... how?  Every beautiful fold in the lady's dress, and every ripple in the water is executed with near technical perfection, and not a sign is showing, at least to the naked eye, that any contour guide lines were drawn beforehand.  Even the detail of the characteristic Swedish slant of the man's eyelids is handled wonderfully. 
The scene itself is a typical Swedish genre scene that Zorn was known for.  Of course, he was also known as a great painter of nudes in natural environments, and simple, rustic life scenes as well.  There was always an innocence in the tone of his paintings.  His nudes were beautiful, but had really no suggestion of sensuality to them.  They were often scenes of bathing, sometimes mothers with their children in open air, which was actually customary at the time.  But this watercolor is not one of his famous nudes, nor is it anything depicting high members of society such as his paintings of Swedish nobility or U.S. Presidents.  It is a simple scene between to people at a dock on the water.
Many of the paintings I have chosen for this 40 Days series have been some of the first paintings I've seen by some of the artists.  Or they were the first paintings of theirs that really stood out to me.  And for Zorn, this piece stood out above the rest of his.  Mainly because of the depiction of water.  I looked at this piece and automatically assumed it was an oil painting, and I loved it already.  But then as I was reading one of my new books on Zorn, I discovered it was a watercolor, and became even more amazed by it.  As it turns out, this piece is Sweden's most expensive painting, selling for 26 million SEK in 2010 (about $4 million).  I hear something like that, and it inspires me.  And it defines what true art really is.  Not that it has to do with money, but that a piece of paper with some color on it is so valuable both in terms of money and in terms of awe-inspiring beauty.  But that's not what it is.  Let's face it, there is a reason it is worth so much in money.  Because if all it was was a piece of paper with watercolor on it, it wouldn't be worth anything.  But it's the beauty that matters, and the beauty that makes it worth anything.  The beauty of the piece is universal.  It is something that absolutely no one can possibly look at, and with any conviction say, "This is a bad painting."  And that is art.

Summer Vacation
watercolor on paper

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