Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Swedish bathing Venuses by Anders Zorn 1: Etchings

Against the current (1919)

We have looked, briefly, at some or the work of Sweden's greatest painter, Anders Zorn (1860-1920) before. Given our recent post featuring pictures from the Swedish naturist magazine Tidlösa we thought it worth revisiting Zorn and looking at some more of his plein air works.

The Ford (1912)

Zorn was a well travelled and successful artist, famous for his oils of scenes of Swedish life, realistic nudes and, in America, portraits of the rich and famous (including a number of US presidents).  It is the latter fame that makes his work very collectible today and the prices high.  One of his paintings sold for over £2.3 million.

The Fence (1913)

Towards the end of his life he produced a lot of fine etchings, primarily nude studies.  Although he worked on interior scenes (which we will have a look at another time) most of his nude etchings feature women outside in the Swedish countryside and, invariably, by water,.

Two bathers (1910)

These are mostly of bathers in and around the chilly waters (as we know from experience!) of the lakes, rivers or on the Baltic shore of Sweden.  They are very much the spiritual predecessors, therefore, of the photographic nudes of Tidlösa from fifty years later.

My models (1916)

Zorn became rather notorious for setting off in boats with ladies who would then strip off for his pictures, even though, as we have seen, naked bathing was quite common in Sweden. The difference being, perhaps that the ladies were not really bathing for themselves but posing for Zorn.

Edo (1907)

Anyway, not only does he capture the ripe form of his models he also captures the landscape within which he has placed them.  They are not isolated from their surroundings but almost become part of them. Organically enhancing the landscape not just mere additions to it.

The Outer Skerries (1913)

Anyone who has spent any time in and around the Baltic will recognise these distinctive rocky islands named skerries.  The word is old Norse in origin, sker, and came into the English language via Norse settlers in Scotland.

On Hemso Island (1917)

In Swedish today they are known as skär with the most well known of them being the large archipelago off the coast near the Swedish capital the Stockholms skärgård.  One of the nicest places in Europe to sail a boat (in the summer!), in Triple P's experience.

Dal river (1919)

Not all of Zorn's bathers are on lakes or by the sea, however, this lady is on the Dal River, which is the second longest river in Sweden.  Zorn bought a piece of land here in 1904 and relocated a number of ancient timber buildings to the site, which he called Gopsmor.

Alder (1917)

He liked to stay at Gopsmor several times a year and lived a simple life there, fishing and painting.  Many of his nudes by firelight were done here.  The grassy banks in pictures like this are very different from the rocky shores depicted in his coastal pictures.  In 1970 the building of the Spjutmo hydro electric project saw the area flooded and the government moved Zorn's collection of buildings to another, similar, site where it is now a museum.

Mother bathing (1894)

This older etching shows a much looser. less tonal and less detailed style than his later twentieth century efforts,  The water is not nearly as well rendered as in his later etchings.

Sandhamn (1906)

You can see the contrast in this one done twelve years later.  Sandhamn is a small town on the island of Sandön in the Stockholm archipelago.  Not many live there in the winter but in the summer the population increases twenty-fold with the influx of tourists, especially yachtsmen.  In 1897 the Royal Swedish Yacht Club built a clubhouse there and the prestigious Round Gotland yacht race is run from there every July.

Wet (1911)

This one skillfully depicts the girl's legs through the water and we can see how Zorn's mastery of rendering waves is now evident.

Hemula II (1906)

Etching is a way of making a print by covering a metal plate with wax and then inscribing the design with a sharp instrument.  The plate is then immersed in acid which eats into the exposed metal not protected by the wax coating. The wax ground is them removed and the plate is smeared with ink.  The excess ink is then wiped off just leaving the ink in the etched lines.  The plate is then put in a high pressure press with a piece of paper and the ink transfers to the paper.  Several hundred prints can be made in this way from each plate.  The image is reversed, of course compared with the way it is etched onto the plate.

Dagmar (1912)

Dagmar (1911)

You can see the reversed image in this example.  Zorn would often make etchings of his paintings and this one, Dagmar (a girl's name from the Old Norse words for 'day' and 'daughter'), was originally painted in 1911.  He was able to sell these etchings for good money (one will cost you about £1800 today).  Zorn was very concerned that his models had pale skin and this girl positively shines out of the painting.

Summer (1917)

I tried my hand at etching in art classes at school and it is really difficult (and messy).  The way that Zorn can convey shape by just scratching lines on metal is remarkable. 

Dalarö (1915)

Dalarö is another small maritime town near Stockholm which is a popular place for holidaymakers.  Here is another girl paddling off the rocky shore.

Frightened (1919)

Getting down to the water doesn't look that easy, given the smooth rocks sometimes precipitous edges, hence the title of this one.

Precipice (1909)

This one is actually called 'precipice' and features another girl on the edge, although she is hardly dicing with death.

My model and my boat (1894)

This early etching shows how Zorn got his models out to these inaccessible shores.  Again, note the very sketchy treatment of the water compared with later pictures.

Cabin (1917)

Zorn owned a bigger boat too, a yacht which he would sail up and down the coast of Sweden with his models on board, looking for suitable places to pose them.  What a splendid crew!

Balance (1919)

It looks like these ladies are using a precarious way to get down into the water and you can almost feel  the woman waving her arms about to keep her balance.

Sappo (1917)

As in this picture of a girl with her dog, many of these etchings have a photographic immediacy to them.  Zorn was interested in photography from an early age and did a self portrait of himself from a photograph when he was fourteen years old. 

Three sisters (1913)

The immediacy of the camera is very clear in this one.  This picture is, unusually, more 'posed' rather than using the more natural attitudes seen in many of his other pictures.  The three sisters look fun and relaxed, however.

The Three Graces (1910)

This is obviously the same three women, here depicted in the water but still smiling happily.  Even though the photographic origin of the picture is obvious Zorn has abstracted the original image and, through his brilliant use of line, got it down to is essentials.  The fact that, if you half close your eyes, it looks exactly like a photograph is a testament to his skill as an etcher.

On the sands (1916)

This one is rather more sensuous than most of the others and the reclining figure is unusual in his outdoor subject etchings.

Naiads (1918)

More sensuality here of two young women lying at the water's edge and Zorn was obviously taken with them enough to refer to them as water nymphs.    

Pilot (1919)

This is a rare, although not unique, Zorn etching including a male figure with one of his girls.  It is called pilot and the man seems to be carefully guiding the girl as she wades in the water.

The two (1916)

Here is another couple, although it could well be the same couple, of course, as just because the etchings date from three years apart it doesn't men that the pair weren't originally captured at the same time.

Shallow (1913)

Here we have an example of one of Zorn's reference photos with his final etching.  We have reversed the photo, of course, so as to compare it with the finished artwork.  The long exposures needed at the time have made the image slightly blurred.

Here is another photo by Zorn.  There are over a thousand pictures in his archive (all of his possessions were left to the Swedish state by his family).  This is a real precursor to the Tidlösa pictures from fifty years later.

 Swan (1915)

Here is another photo/etching comparison.  The use of photographs as source material for artists has always been controversial, of course, with some regarding it as a useful tool while others decry it; then as now.  Zorn has slightly prettied his model up here although it is worth noting that her body didn't need improving.

Self portrait

In our final image we catch a glimpse of Anders Zorn himself, with one of his sumptuous models in the background.  Although Zorn usually treats his nude women like a piece of the landscape they are located in, the fact that he used photographs gives his etchings a ghostly remembrance of the real Swedish women who disported themselves naked in that landscape a hundred years ago.  Soon we will look at more of his outdoor oil paintings of women.


  1. Great post! I have a little experience with etching. I took art back when I was in school, and we learned how to do it. Really fun! These pieces are amazing.

    1. I didn't get on with it. I found the process got in the way of the inspiration but I had friends who really liked all the mechanics...