Art History



Document Type



Swedish-American artists, immigrants, patronage, 20th-century


The network of patronage, both informal and formal, that supported Swedish-American artists was uniquely vigorous and, although diffuse, was often interconnected. Why did this network exist more strongly for Swedish-Americans than for other groups? Two significant factors appear to be at least partially responsible. From the mid- to late nineteenth century, Sweden had one of the highest levels of literacy in Europe, thus assuring aspiring visual artists from various social classes of a solid educational background. Secondly, Sweden respected andgenerally supported its talented visual artists, making them an esteemed part of the social fabric. Exceptionally talented artists were able to climb the social ladder in the mother country, achieving status because of their artistic abilities. The examples of Anders Zorn (1860-1920) and Carl Larsson (1853-1919), both men from poor, lower class families who found a niche in social circles because of their abilities, served as an inspiration to young immigrant artists. Recalling this high level of social acceptance in their mother country, the immigrant artists worked to establish their careers in the New Land. Swedish artists sought to assimilate successfully and quickly into the American societal framework within the most populous waves of immigration to the New World between 1880 and 1920. Swedish-Americans settled en masse in Chicago during this period, becoming the third most populous national group in that city. They also settled in large numbers in areas on the East Coast: Brooklyn, among the other Scandinavians; Worcester and Boston, Massachusetts; and regions of New York . In collections of essays in Swedes in the Twin Cities (2001), and Swedes in Chicago, (1991), scholars such as Dag Blanck and Philip Anderson reported that as a group these immigrants developed community-based organizations that paralleled both those they left in the homeland and those they found in the New World. Thus immigrant artists and collectors alike transferred roles they witnessed in the mother country into this new society forged from immigrant beginnings.