Birger Sandzén: Post-Impressionism in Kansas

13 Sep

sandzen-rock-and-pineBirger Sandzén, Rock and Pine (date unknown)

sandzen-creek-at-moonrise-1921Birrger Sandzén, Creek at Moonrise (1921)

Note: click on any image to enlarge

Sven Birger Sandzén (1871 – 1954), better known simply as Birger Sandzén, is one of my absolute favorite landscape painters.  A Swedish-American, his work exhibits the strong influence of Van Gogh and Cezanne.  From 1894 until his retirement in 1946 he served as art professor and later head of the art department at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas.

sandzen-photo-c1932Sven Birger Sandzén in his studio, c. 1932

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABirger Sandzén, Desert (1940)

sandzen-mining-townBirger Sandzén, Mining Town (date unknown)

Sandzen_MoonriseandAfterglow-1935Birger Sandzén, Moonrise and Afterglow (1935)

Sandzén was born inBildsberg, Sweden, the son of a Lutheran minister.  His mother was an accomplished watercolorist. A student of Anders Zorn, Sandzén showed an interest in art at from early age, and at the age of 10 joined the Cathedral School in Skara to study art under Olof Erlandsson, a graduate of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts.  Sandzen intended to study there as well, but the waiting list was too long so he joined a group of artists who were studying under Zorn, Richard Bergh and Per Hasselbergh (later known as the “Artists League”).

sandzen-twillightsmokeyriverBirger Sandzén, Twilight, Smoky River (date unknown)

Thereafter, at the urging of Zorn and Bergh, Sandzén complete his painting studies in Paris.  In 1894 he left Stockholm to study under Edmond Aman-lean, who was closely tied to Ernest Laurent and Georges Seurat.

sandzen-grand-CanyonBirger Sandzén, Grand Canyon (date unknown)

sandzen-creek-at-moonriseBirger Sandzén, Creek at Moonrise (date unknown)

Late in 1894 Sandzén accepted an art teaching post at Bethany College and moved to Lindsborg, Kansas where he spent the rest of his life.  He loved, and frequently painted, the Smoky Hill River Valley in central Kansas.  He was also quite taken with the landscape of the American West, icluding the Rocky Mountains and Yellowstone National Park.

sandzen-Pikes-PeakBirger Sandzén, Pike’s Peak (date unknown)

Sandzen-In-the-painted-desertBirger Sandzén, In the Painted Desert (date unknown)

sandzen-colorado-sunsetBirger Sandzén, Colorado Sunset (date unknown)

While he is best known for his oil painting, Sandzén was also an excellent printmaker and watercolorist.  His style is quite distinctive, featuring thick, impasto paint application, strong brushstrokes and vivid coloring.  Comparison with Van Gogh and Cezanne is apt, and you can see the pointillist influence of Seurat in some of Sandzén’s work (e.g. Colorado Sunset, above).

Yet Sandzén has a style all his own.  At his best he’s absolutely electrifying: he  conveys not just the look of the landscape but the emotional impact of the moment.  In this respect his paintings have a lot of the same vibe as the Canadians Tom Thomson and Frederick Horsman Varley.  And if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you know I intend that as high praise — I love Birger Sandzén!

sandzen-white-horse-creekBirger Sandzén, White Horse Creek (date unknown)

sandzen-title-unknown4Birger Sandzén (title and date unknown)

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