Gunnar Widforss

(1879 - 1934)


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Gunnar Widforss

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A quiet, modest, gracious man, who lived alone and did not prosper from his painting, Widforss copied nature closely and is remembered for a soft palette and a generally realistic style.

Born and trained in Stockholm, Sweden, Gunnar Widforss became well known for specializing in American National Park landscapes.

Widforss’ father, Mauritz, owned a firearm and hunting shop. His mother, Blenda, had studied art at Konstfack, the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design, and was a noted amateur painter. When he was sixteen years old Widforss began his training to become a painter and muralist at this same school, where he graduated in 1900.

Widforss then traveled to St. Petersburg, Russia to work as an apprentice decorative painter. He returned home approximately two years later and then embarked on an extended period of travel around Europe and America. Widforss worked primarily in watercolor and led a bohemian lifestyle, traveling in search of great landscapes to paint. Between 1904 and 1909, he ventured to Austria, Switzerland, the Mediterranean region and North Africa. From 1906 to 1907 he visited the United States where he resided in Florida and New York, doing odd jobs and paintings on commission.

His mid-30s brought recognition to Widforss, with two of his watercolors being accepted into the Paris Salon of 1912, and six of his works being acquired by King Gustaf V of Sweden. The turmoil of the First World War forced Widforss to stay put in Sweden, but in 1921 he left again to travel to Japan to paint the more exotic landscapes. En route, he visited California where his funds ran out, and so he spent time there painting the idyllic seaside views of Catalina Island and travelling the coast.

He settled for a time in San Francisco and did much painting along the coast of Monterey, and then, encouraged by Stephen Mather who was Superintendent of the National Parks, he spent much of the remaining years of his life painting in many of the National Parks such as Yellowstone, Zion, Mesa Verde, and at the Grand Canyon; he also painted in Taos, New Mexico.

Of Yosemite, he did illustrations for the 1923 book, “Songs of Yosemite”, and his work was reproduced in the USA on many postcards and in magazines. He spent his last years in his studio on the rim of the Grand Canyon, where he painted in oil and watercolor, views from every aspect. Much of his output there he traded for staples, and his paintings at the Grand Canyon were sold by the Fred Harvey Company at the El Tovar art shop.

One of his favorite subjects was the shady groves of aspen trees on the Canyon’s North Rim. Preferring to work plein aire, Widforss worked indoors only on rare occasions, often taking strenuous hikes to favored spots.

Widforss often visited Phoenix and the neighboring small towns. He did many paintings of Camelback Mountain in the heart of Phoenix, the dramatic Superstition Mountains east of town and the lush green cottonwood trees that lined irrigation canals and provided shade on the margins of the farm fields.