Artist Sven Birger Sandzen (1871 - 1954) is more commonly known as Birger Sandzen. Besides being a well-known Impressionist landscape painter, Birger Sandzen also had a long and prestigious career as an art professor at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas. His modernist style of painting has been paralleled with that of Vincent Van Gogh and many of his works are Rocky Mountain Landscape paintings. His earlier paintings were Tonalist in style and after he spent time painting in Colorado he began painting with much brighter colors and his style evolved into Expressionism. His style of combining bold colors and large quantities of paint even spurred critics to align his works with those of the famous Fauve painters Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne.
The son of a minister, Sven Birger Sandzen was born in Blidsberg, Sweden. His father played the violin and wrote poetry and his mother had studied drawing. Before he was ten years old his parents noticed his artistic talent and asked a friend to give him some drawing lessons. By the age of 10 Birger Sandzen was taking courses at the College and Academy of Skara where he studied painting and drawing under Olof Erlandsson. Sven Birger Sandzen graduated from Skara College and then went on to study briefly at Lund University. Birger Sandzen next studied perspective and form drawing in high school at the technical high school at Stockholm. Under Anders Zorn suggestion, Birger Sandzen and a group of young artists rented a studio. There they obtained instruction from Anders Zorn as well as Richard Bergh who was a respected portrait painter and also from a top Swedish sculptor, Per Hasselberg. Birger Sandzen and the group of young artists formed "The Art School of the Artists' League" which would become an integral part of developing the modern Swedish art movement.
In 1894 Birger Sandzen became aware of Dr. Carl A. Swensson who was a Swedish-American college President in Kansas. He wrote to Dr. Swensson asking if he could utilize his talents as an artist and in teaching French. An offer was tendered and accepted and very soon Birger Sandzen was living in Lindsborg, Kansas where he would make his home for the next 54 years. In the year 1900 Sven Birger Sandzen married Augusta Alfrida Leksell, a pianist, and they in turn had one daughter, Margaret Elizabeth.
Birger Sandzen was a devoted instructor which only left late evenings for his own painting. He would spend his summers in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah and this is where his creative inspiration would be ignited. Starting in about 1918, Birger Sandzen began making regular painting trips to both Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1922 and 1923 The Babcock Galleries in New York sponsored two large exhibitions of Birger Sandzen's paintings, however due to his commitment as a professor, Birger Sandzen never attended the exhibitions. During the Great Depression, Sven Birger Sandzen was a W.P.A. artist and he also wrote a book titled With Brush and Pencil.
Sven Birger Sandzen taught at Bethany College for 52 years and during that time received honorary doctorates from Kansas State College, Midland College of Fremont, Nebraska and Nebraska University. He was honored as a Knight of the Swedish Order of the North Star in 1940.
In 1954 Sven Birger Sandzen endured several months of failing health before he ultimately died at home on June 19, 1954.
Birger Sandzen Awards: Order of Vasa, Swedish Government; Order of the North Star, Swedish Government Honorary Doctorate, Midland Luthern; College Honorary Doctorate, University of Nebraska Honorary Doctorate, Kansas State University