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COLORS OF THE WEST: THE PAINTINGS OF BIRGER SANDZéN

April 17th – September 12th, 2010
Palm Springs Art Museum

Sven Birger Sandzén (1871-1954), a Swedish-born artist, trained in Paris and participated in its famous fin de siècle milieu. In 1894 he immigrated to the United States and settled in the center of the American prairie in Lindsborg, Kansas where he was invited to become an art professor at Bethany College. Considered a post-Impressionist for his use of color and expressionist in technique, Sandzén vibrant and dynamic paintings of prairie and western landscapes from Kansas to the California coast have been relatively unknown outside the Midwest until recently. In 1908, he made his first trip to Colorado and beginning in 1915 became a regular visitor to Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico. He found the beauty of the Southwest and mountains “… a paradise for the painter.” Exhibiting with the Taos Society of Artists in 1922, he became an associate member at the request of Victor Higgins. During his 54-year career, his style evolved from pointillism to a personal style of bold color with thickly applied masses of paint earning him the title, the “American Van Gogh.”

Impressed by the scale and physicality of mountain structure and the intense brilliance of light and colors of the West, Sandzén applied the same coloristic sensibility to low lying lands of the prairies as he did to his monumental mountain scenes. The originality of the artist’s aesthetic—his use of high-key colors, expressive application of paint and signature brush strokes—sets Sandzén apart from his contemporaries such as Edgar Payne, William Wendt, Paul Lauritz and the Taos painters. However, perhaps due in part to his isolation in a small mid-western town, Sandzén’s contribution to 20th-century American painting has yet to be fully recognized and appreciated.

Since opening in 1957, the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery currently houses the largest collection of his works primarily due to the generosity of the Birger Sandzén Memorial Foundation Collection and the Greenough Trust, established in 1993 by Sandzén’s daughter and son-in-law. The exhibition showcases more than 60 paintings, watercolors and prints from the Gallery and the family trust supplemented by a selection of important Sandzén artworks on loan from private collections. This exhibition will be the first major American exhibition of Sandzén’s artworks outside Kansas.

Organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum in conjunction with the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery, Lindsborg, Kansas, this exhibition is sponsored by the Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation and the R.D. and Joan Dale Hubbard Foundation. Additional support provided by the museum's Western Art Council, Newman's Own Foundation / Patricia & Arthur Newman, Jeane & Justin Hilb, David Kaplan & Glenn Ostergaard, the James Irvine Foundation, Simon K.Chiu, Alise & Andreas Mauritzson, Diane & Sam Stewart, Edenhurst Gallery, and The American-Scandinavian Foundation.