Birger Sandzen (1871 – 1954)
Swedish painter Birger Sandzen began receiving private art instruction by the age of eight and had entered the College of Skara at only ten. Over the course of Birger Sandzen’s painting career, his style would evolve from pointillism to a completely self-created style employing the bold strokes of color similar to the Fauvists, and one that included the Tonalist work of his early training.
After graduating in 1890, Birger Sandzen had continued his studies at the University of Lund, where he was a pupil of Anders Zorn among other notable young artists. Eventually the instructors formed the “Art School of the Artists’ League” that would figure significantly in the evolution of the modern Swedish art movement. Birger Sandzen would also study in Paris briefly before returning to Sweden in 1894.
Around this Birger Sandzen was made aware of an opening for a professorship at Bethany College in Kansas. He was given the job, and from this location he would spend his summers traveling to Yellowstone National Park, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah; landscapes that would figure significantly in the paintings he would produce for the rest of his life. Over the next fifty years Birger Sandzen would create over five hundred drawings and paintings from these areas.
While earning a reputation as an artist of note, Birger Sandzen also created a reputation as a dedicated educator. He worked to introduce his students and community to the world of art, arranging lectures, staging exhibitions and working with the local art club to purchase a library.
During his teaching career two large exhibitions of his work were staged in New York galleries, neither of which Birger Sandzen would attend due to his teaching commitments. He would continue to teach at Bethany College and in other locations for fifty-two years.
In addition to his painting, Birger Sandzen was also an illustrator, engraver and lithographer. He was a founding member of the Prairie Printmakers Society, the author of a book on art technique and received commissions from the W.P.A. during the Depression years in America.
Birger Sandzen’s unusual use of thick applications of boldly colored paint to capture the scenery of the western United States earned him the nickname of the “American Van Gogh”. Birger Sandzen continued to work up until his death in 1954.