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Birger Sandzen (American, 1871-1954)
Also known as: Sandzen, Birger; Sandzén, Sven Birger; Birger SandzénBirth Place: Sweden (Europe)
Sven Birger Sandzen, better known as simply Birger Sandzen, was born in 1871 in Blidsberg, Sweden. His father was a Lutheran minister, and his mother was a painter who worked primarily in watercolors. Sandzen studied art in Stockholm with Anders Zorn and Richard Berg. He later continued his education in Paris with Edmond Francois Aman-Jean. In 1894, Sandzen accepted a position at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas where he spent the remainder of his career.
Sandzen started out teaching languages and assisting in the art and vocal music departments at Bethany College before becoming the principal art instructor in 1899. It was during this time when Sandzen created the bulk of his work. Even after he retired from teaching in 1946 as Professor Emeritus, Birger Sandzen continued to produce hundreds of oil paintings, watercolors and prints until his death in 1954.
Sandzén’s early artistic style was heavily influenced by tonalism and Scandinavian Romanticism, but once he began spending his summers in the American southwest his palette exploded with color. He began visiting Taos in the summer of 1918 at the height of the artist colony. Four years later Sandzén was elected an associate member of the Taos Society of Artists. That same year, 1922, he exhibited with the group in New York where he also had a one-man exhibition at the Babcock Gallery. Sandzén's Fauvist palette and strong brushwork energize the landscapes for which he is best known. His thick impasto layers are reminiscent of Impressionism but tempered by a modernist execution. As with many of the Taos artists, Sandzén painted en plein air in order to work directly from nature and there is a resulting vibrancy and purity to his canvases.
He had a fondness for the Smoky Hill River, which flowed near his Lindsborg home. The Smoky Hill River was a frequent motif in many of his pieces, such as the oil on board painting Early Fall, Smoky River, Kansas, which was completed circa 1941. Some of Sandzen's other famous landscape paintings include Mountain Stream, Eldora, Colorado and his 1912 oil painting The Grove.
Birger Sandzen was in demand as a guest artist throughout his career. He frequently taught at the Broadmoor Art Academy (later renamed the Colorado Springs Fine Art Center) the Chappell Hill School of Art in Denver and the Kansas City Art Institute. He was also a founder of the Mid-West Art Exhibition and the Smoky Hill Art Club, both of which were based in Lindsborg.
Birger Sandzen will be remembered as one of the most prolific Swedish-American artists in history. His impressive body of work includes over 2,600 oil paintings, 500 watercolors, 207 lithographs, 94 block prints and 27 drypoints. After all the editions of his work are totaled, Sandzen's body of work amounts to over 33,000 prints. Like most painters, Sandzen also was a prolific draftsman and filled over 80 sketchbooks.
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