Early in his career, Birger Sandzén (1871-1954) painted in a subtle, tonalist style, in his home country of Sweden, and then he studied in Paris where he was introduced to Impressionism, pointillism, and Post-Impressionism. That changed his outlook and his painting style forever. He immigrated to Kansas to teach at Bethany College and began a lifelong love affair with the landscape of America, particularly the American West.
“Birger Sandzén is the poet-painter of immense sun-washed spaces, of pine-crowned luminous, gigantic rocks, and of color-shifting desert sands,” wrote Parisian art critic Guiseppe Pelletieri. “ The spectator is amazed at this captured beauty. This dreamer-painter is truly a master.”
Sandzen’s style of painting is unusual in its thick and heavy application of impasto in bold and bright color combinations, interpreting the landscape of the western United States. He is known for very colorful renderings of mountain lakes with boulders, cypress and aspen trees and moonrises along waterways. He never claimed to be a follower, but he was known to many as the “American Van Gogh.”
The Sandzén in Colorado exhibition includes a large sampling of work from private collections, but the majority of works were hand-delivered by curator Ron Michael of the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, Kansas. Sandzén in Colorado is the largest Sandzén exhibition to date. Sandzen’s stunning paintings will be complemented by his sketchbook drawings and photographs in order to provide insight into the artist’s process of translating the landscapes he observed into paintings that he believed were pure expression.
“There are western motifs out here, especially in a certain light (for example, in gray weather), which are distinguished by their majestic lines as in protruding rocks, rolling prairie and winding ravines,” Sandzén wrote in 1915. “One should, when painting such motifs, first of all emphasize the rhythm and then sum up the color impression in a few large strokes.”
The artist visited Colorado almost every summer from 1908 until 1952. Sandzén succeeded John Carlson as professor of landscape painting at the Broadmoor Art Academy during the summers of 1923 and 1924.
“Sandzén really came into his mature work about the time he was coming to Colorado,” said FAC Museum Director Blake Milteer. “What we hope to do is to pick out some of the particular motivations and inspirations so that you’ll be able to see Sandzén’s particular images and motifs develop.”
Sandzén referred to Colorado’s scenery as “a paradise for painters” and adapted his open brushwork and vibrant hues to create epic paintings of landscapes throughout the state, with emphasis on the Pikes Peak Region and Estes Park. “Colorado Springs ought to be one of the most important art centers of the west,” Sandzén told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1923. “It is centrally located, in a setting that is without rival in the entire west. It has a sketching ground to offer artists that cannot be surpassed in the United States or elsewhere.”