Night Effect

7:00 AM

Anders Zorn, Night Effect, 1895

I always think of Anders Zorn, a mostly unknown Swedish painter, as the weird uncle version of John Singer Sargent. His brushstrokes are looser, his lighting less pronounced, and his subjects more nude than not. Where Sargent paints beautiful, elegant women, Zorn chooses to paint an inebriated prostitute. Zorn's subject leans against a tree, as if she is incapable of standing on her own. Her face is flushed and set in an unattractive expression. Although some could see this as Zorn mocking the dignified women Sargent paints, I view this piece as comical. Her dress, bright red as an indication towards her profession, is not revealing. In fact, she's rather well covered for a prostitute (disclaimer: I'm no expert on prostitute fashion, they could wear parkas and long johns for all I know). The exposed lacey hem of her underskirt is, perhaps, the most provocative aspect of her outfit.

Zorn creates tension in the painting via the background lighting. The cafe's lights are bright and intense, illuminating our "lady of the night," but they suddenly break off and become inky black. It took me a while to actually notice that there's a man in that darkness. All that can be seen is a vague profile of his face and clothing. To me, the painting seems rushed, especially the background. It's as if Zorn added in the background as an afterthought. The dark and the light push against each other, separated only by the scarlet woman. Zorn's brush strokes are hurried and blurred, as if the viewers own vision is hazy. That always leads me to imagine that when I look at this painting I immediately step into the role of her drinking buddy, stumbling home after last call. Where Sargent takes the viewer into the lives of the bourgeoisie, Zorn takes you to the streets and out for a drink with some rather rough customers.

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