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Birger Sandzen


Bear Lake

Oil on canvas
31.5 x 27.5 in. (80.01 x 69.85 cm)
Museum Permanent Collection

Concerned that their students were out of touch with modern art, and years away from their own limited European exposure to it, the two-man art faculty at Utah State Agricultural College instituted a summer program of visiting artists. The second artist chosen to import the modern was the Kansan Birger Sandzen, who taught plein-air landscape painting in 1929 and 1930. Students ventured out to neighboring locations to paint, and this work was probably the product of one such excursion to Bear Lake.

Sandzen had studied in Paris and Sweden before the turn of the twentieth century. In America he gradually developed a colorful fauvist palette, applied in a thick impasto brushed on with vigorous, rhythmic strokes. Although he believed that “too much mixing kills the color,” the juxtaposition of complementary primary colors is often supported here by mixed pigments. Sandzen intended his pure colors to refract upon each other in order to produce a vibrating optical blend. At the height of his painterly power in 1930, however, his paintings still lacked the fluidity and shimmer of the postimpressionists he sought to emulate.

George Wanlass

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