Gunnar Widforss–Painter of the National Parks
Through the Roaring Twenties and the first half of the Great Depression, the Swedish-born landscape painter Gunnar Widforss (1879-1934) focused his discerning eye and passionate energy on the national parks of the American West. Because of Widforss’ untimely death at only age 55, and
because the rise of modernism in the early-twentieth century consigned many highly skilled realistic painters to obscurity, Widforss’ legacy is largely unknown today. The amiable Swede led a bohemian life in search of beautiful landscapes to paint. Widforss dressed formally as he worked and always attracted wonder-struck onlookers when he painted in Yosemite Valley, on the rim of Grand Canyon and the other locations he favored in the national parks. Park Service friends such as Ansel Hall and Stephen Mather as well as tourists marveled at the accuracy of his painting and the way in which he was able to capture the dramatic landscapes. Widforss never resorted to sentimental or romanticized depictions, so prevalent in depictions of western subjects. He very well may be viewed as one of the greatest artists to paint the West and his obscurity is a paradox. The story of Widforss’ life and work is one of great triumph in realistic painting, and the tragedy of his anonymity and death is a compelling story of a Swedish expatriate who fell in love with the landscapes of the American West.
Today, Widforss’ work is known only to a small number of dedicated collectors, the descendants of his family and friends, and those who discover his gem-like paintings when they visit the national parks he depicted.
Curator and author Alan Petersen has published a catalogue raisonné of Widforss’ works and is nearing completion of a monograph on the artist’s fascinating life and work.
Sunday, October 16th | 1pm | $8 suggested donation | register here
ABOUT ALAN: Alan recently published a catalogue raisonné of works by Swedish-American artist Gunnar Widforss that currently lists nearly 1,300 paintings. He is continuing work on a monograph on Widforss’ fascinating life and art. Alan has also published a number of articles on the artist and in 2018 co-curated an exhibition of the artist’s work in Ljungby, Sweden.
Alan recently retired from a faculty position at Coconino Community College in Flagstaff where he taught art history, drawing, painting, and courses pertaining to the Colorado Plateau for thirty years. His own paintings have their source in the light, space and landforms of the Colorado Plateau, and explore the formal relationships between color and pictorial space. He is also engaged in a major project that involves mapping and drawing the geological sources of uranium within Grand Canyon.