"Paintings have a life of their own that derives from the painter's soul." Vincent Van Gogh

Monday, March 27, 2017

Anders Zorn and the Zorn Palette

There is a silver lining to every cloud. With my current back issues making it impossible to stand at the easel for any length of time, I have had plenty of opportunity to devour some of my art books from cover to cover. I have spent the most time looking at my incredible book on Sweden's Master Painter, Anders Zorn. The color plates are of great quality and it is easy to see that his portraits are nothing short of magnificent. His brushwork is virtuoso while his colors are so so subtle and real.

I was intrigued by his limited palette. It is said that he only used four colors - referred to as the Zorn Palette. He worked his magic using cadmium red medium, ivory black, yellow ocher and titanium white. How could this be possible? I decided to find out for myself and spent time today creating a color chart using just those colors. I always learn so much about color when I take the time to do an exercise like this.

The first photo shows the color chart next to the book open to a page showing  two of his portraits.

The next photo shows the actual chart - I will remove those blue tape strips when the paint is dry and position this in my studio so I can reference it while I am painting. I will definitely try out this palette one day. And I do recommend the book - not only are the plates clear and crisp, it makes for great reading as he was a bigger than life character and became a much sought after portrait painter among the wealthy in  late 19th century America.

Hopefully, it wont be much longer before I can get back to painting.


  1. The best part of blogging is the sharing!

    After discovering Zorn, I decided to use his limited palette for my first attempts at portraiture (using acrylics).

    My first portrait ever was of Zorn's wife and the second of Zorn himself.

    Like you I painted out the colour chart too - inspirational!

    I really hope your back recovers soon, you poor thing.

    1. Oh, you are way ahead of me, John! I remember your portrait of Zorn's wife and how impressed I was - I am just blown away by the portraits in this book. He really was a master - and not only in oil but watercolor also. Someday I hope to see his work in person - I have only seen reproductions at this point.
      Still babying the back - but making progress! Thanks for your good wishes.

  2. You are a true artist!!
    Even when in pain you still are doing the important discovery process...so you must have discovered how important the right black is to get the important silvery blue cools colors we see in his portraits. When we used his palette in class - where everyone had different brands of paints for the same colors - I was intrigued by the differences each paint manufacturer made to the final charts. The ivory black and yellow ochre appear to have made the biggest difference.
    Next- of all things, was the white. Permalba gave a different mixing result than, say, the LaFranc titanium.
    All fascinating stuff!!
    Make sure you are a completely recovered before returning to large paintings. I truly feel for you. Been there - done that! Sending a hug.

    1. You are so right about the differences in various manufacturer colors, Julie. I have developed a list over time of my favorites from each manufacturer. For the color chart, I used Winsor & Newton with the exception of the cad red which was Rembrandt. That is the color I struggled with as I think it is deeper than the cad red medium that I normally use. But the experience of doing this was priceless nonetheless! And again you are right - all extremely fascinating! Thanks for the hug - my back is ever so slowly improving but after this experience, I am taking it slow!

  3. Bonjour ma chère Susan,

    Ce n'est pas possible !!! J'avais manqué autant de publications !!! Il est vrai que je ne suis pas très présente en ce moment. J'apprends que ton dos te fait souffrir. J'ose espérer que très vite tu te sentiras mieux pour reprendre tes pinceaux et danser avec eux comme tes ballerines...
    Cette dernière publication est aussi très intéressante. Je suis fascinée par la palette de ce peintre talentueux. Je suis d'accord aussi avec Julie en ce qui concerne les marques de peintures. Une petite différence entre elles peut créer des nuances tellement variables.

    Avec le petit retour en arrière que j'ai fait, j'ai admiré de belles oeuvres... Un véritable régal...

    Je t'embrasse affectueusement, prends bien soin de toi.
    Gros bisous 🌸

  4. Pretty amazing what can be achieved with just four colours, right! What a great idea to make this colour chart!

  5. That is really interesting, Susan. What an amazing colour chart!

  6. What a wonderful experiment. I'll have to try that sometime. I hope you're doing much better by now? Back pain is horrible. I always enjoy your posts!

  7. It's amazing what we can still do if we can't paint! I've been reading so many art books and watching videos on painting portraits..lol. I'm not wearing a sling anymore but unfortunately I can only raise my arm about 3 inches... Frustrating but with therapy I can only hope for a fast recovery. I look forward to painting again!!!! I will be praying for you Susan and hopefully you'll be able to paint soon as well!!!!

  8. Just a short note to tell you that I'm thinking of you and praying that you're feeling better. (: sending hugs..

  9. Bonjour chère Susan,

    Je viens prendre de tes nouvelles. Je suis un peu inquiète... Comment vas-tu ?
    Te lire, admirer tes oeuvres me manque terriblement...
    Un petit signe me ferait plaisir...

    Gros bisous

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    I can share the ideas of the future as this is really what I was looking for,
    I am very comfortable and pleased to come here. Thank you very much!

  11. Hello Susan! This is one of your art buddies, Michael Perchard. Sorry I haven't been following your blog lately! Quite ill lately but on the mend. So sorry about your back! Pain can be so frustrating and debilitating. Argh! Hate pain! I love your art and I very much enjoyed this art lesson! I am so very sorry you aren't able to paint! So very sorry buddy! I so know how that feels. I am getting better and have recently came back to painting. Painting more but finishing few! Hope you on the mend soon Susan! Pain free is a blessing! Hang in there. Your art buddy! Michael


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