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Gunnar Widforss Catalogue Raisonné Project

About the Catalogue

  Gunnar Widforss at Grand Canyon, c. 1926

Although Gunnar Widforss was known as the “Painter of the National Parks” in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, very little art-historical writing or scholarship has been focused on the artist. His extraordinary paintings of western national parks in the United States and scenes of European and Swedish landscapes have suffered from decades of obscurity following his death in 1934. Throughout his career (1904–1934), Widforss swam against the powerful tide of modernism as tastes in art focused on the European avan-garde. His first significant exhibition in Stockholm in 1913, featuring landscape scenes of southern France and Capri, took place shortly after Picasso and Braque’s early period of experimental Cubism peaked, and it coincided with the intense artistic dialogue spawned by the 1913 Armory Show in New York.

The Museum of Northern Arizona, located in Flagstaff, Arizona, currently has the largest collection of Widforss’ paintings, drawings, and related archival material, with twenty-two works of art in the fine art collection. The Museum’s relationship with the artist dates back to the late 1920s.One of the Museum’s founders and the first curator of art was Mary-Russell Ferrell Colton, a gifted painter herself. In 1928, Colton initiated an annual summer exhibition, the Arizona Artists and Craftsmen Annual Exhibitions, that attracted works from artists around the state. Widforss participated in at least one of these exhibitions and probably several others, as at the time he was living most of the year at Grand Canyon, 80 miles from Flagstaff. See San Francisco Peaks, Arizona (98) for one example. Following the artist’s death, the Museum hosted a memorial exhibition of his work in 1937 that was drawn largely from his extensive estate.  The Museum hosted a landmark exhibition of Widforss’ work in 1969 that coincided with the publication of Bill and Frances Belknap’s book on the artist, Gunnar Widforss: Painter of the Grand Canyon. This exhibition lead to a number of donations of the artist’s work to the Museum’s collection.

The catalogue raisonné is a comprehensive catalogue of all of Widforss’ work known at this time. At the date of publication (September 2020), the catalogue includes over 1,200 works from private and public collections, and many for which the present location is unknown. As research continues, works will be added and information updated.

Production and publication of the catalogue is made possible through the generous donations of many collectors and fans of Widforss’ work. I am deeply indebted to Barbro Osher’s Pro Suecia Foundation, which was particularly generous in supporting the project.

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