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Gunnar Widforss

View towards the Parliament House

Gunnar Mauritz Widforss (1879–1934) was a Swedish American artist who specialized in painting subjects from the wilderness in watercolor. Widforss is most frequently associated with landscapes from American National Parks.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
  • Legacy 3
  • Selected works 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Water-Lily Pond

Gunnar Widforss was born in Stockholm, Sweden to Mauritz and Blenda Widforss, parents of thirteen children. His father owned a retail store bearing his name, which in 1968 was acquired by Erling Persson to form Hennes & Mauritz (H&M). Widforss' mother was an amateur artist who had studied at the Technical School, now Konstfack, University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. At the age of sixteen Widforss began his studies of painting at the same school.[2]


Half Dome rising above Yosemite Valley

Following the completion of his studies at the Technical School in 1900, Widforss traveled to St. Petersburg Russia to work as an apprentice decorative painter. He returned home a year-and-a-half later and then embarked on an extended period of travel around Europe and America.[3] Widforss worked primarily in watercolor and he led a bohemian lifestyle traveling in search of great landscapes to paint. Between 1904 and 1909 he ventured to Austria, Switzerland, the Mediterranean region and North Africa. From 1906 to 1907 he visited the United States where he resided in Jacksonville, Florida and later Brooklyn, New York doing odd jobs and paintings on commission.

Soon after arriving in California in early 1921 Widforss made his way to Yosemite Valley. He first visited there in March and made it a semi-regular home from 1926 - 1929. It was in Yosemite that he met National Park Service director Stephen T. Mather in 1922. Mather became a friend and patron and suggested that Widforss focus his talents on America's National Parks.[4] In 1923 Widforss illustrated Harold Symmes book "Songs of Yosemite."

Widforss made his first trip to the Southwest in 1923, visiting Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. The following year the artist made his only trip to Yellowstone where he made numerous paintings of the spectacular canyon and falls of the Yellowstone River.[5]

Widforss lived briefly with the Kolb family at their home and studio on the rim and later resided in a Fred Harvey Company dormitory. His paintings were sold in the art gallery in the lobby of the El Tovar Hotel. In 1934, he was diagnosed with an illness and told to avoid the high altitude of Grand Canyon Village. Widforss died later that year at the South Rim of a heart attack at the age of fifty-four. He was buried by his friends in the South Rim Cemetery. His estate contained over 150 finished and unfinished paintings.[6][7]

Major museum exhibitions of Widforss’ work have been rare. The first was presented in December 1924 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. The exhibit included 72 watercolors that primarily included scenes of western National parks. William Henry Holmes, the first Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. D. C., and an artist also known for his extraordinarily accurate drawings and watercolors, commented on Widforss’ Grand Canyon paintings in the exhibit. “They are remarkable as to geological construction and color. They give a more satisfactory understanding of the Grand Canyon than any that have hitherto been attempted. It is well nigh impossible to convey the immensity and grandeur of these marvels of nature but Widforss has accomplished it.” Holmes went on to say that “These are some of the finest things of their kind that have come out of the West.” In 1926 and 1928 Widforss participated in two exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum of art sponsored by the Society of Scandinavian American Artists.


Gunnar Widforss left a great legacy and inspiration for the realistic painters of western landscapes that followed his path. The accuracy of his drawing and use of color and his ability to express deep space and atmospheric effects are unrivaled. In his commitment to the truth and beauty of his subject, Widforss never resorted to sentimental or romanticized depictions, so prevalent in depictions of the West.

The Widforss Trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was named for Gunnar Widforss. The trailhead is approximately 3 miles north of the North Rim Lodge. The trail follows the canyon rim and meanders through the forest to emerge at Widforss Point. Widforss Point is a narrow, wooded promontory half a mile southeast of the end of the Widforss trail.[8][9][10]

Selected works

  • Harold Symmes. Songs of Yosemite.(Yosemite, CA:Ansel Hall,1923). Poetry by Harold Symmes, watercolor illustrations by Gunnar Widforss.


  1. ^ (The Gunnar Widforss Catalogue Raisonné Project)Gunnar Mauritz Widforss
  2. ^ Petersen, Alan (February 2010). "Gunnar Widforss: Visions of Light". Fine Art Connoisseur 7 (1): 31–34. 
  3. ^ Bill Belknap and Frances Spencer Belknap. Notes of interviews with Gunnar Widforss' friends. Museum of Northern Arizona Library.
  4. ^ Bill Belknap and Frances Spencer Belknap. Gunnar Widforss: Painter of the Grand Canyon (Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press for the Museum of Northern Arizona, 1969).
  5. ^ Bill Belknap and Frances Spencer Belknap. Notes of interviews with friends of Gunnar Widforss. Museum of Northern Arizona Library.
  6. ^ (Museum Collections Featuring Works by Gunnar Widforss)Gunnar Mauritz Widforss (1879-1934)
  7. ^ ( Widforss Biography
  8. ^ (North Rim of the Grand Canyon)Widforss Trail
  9. ^ (Grand Canyon National Park)Widforss Point
  10. ^ Widforss Trail (Plan your Grand Canyon visit)

Further reading

  • Belknap, Bill and Frances Spencer Belknap Gunnar Widforss: Painter of the Grand Canyon (Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press. 1969)
  • Samuels, Peggy and Harold Samuels The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West (Doubleday; 1976) ISBN 978-0-385-01730-5
  • Troccoli, Joan Carpenter Painters and the American West: The Anschutz Collection (Yale University Press: 2000) ISBN 978-0-300-08722-2
  • Sjöberg, Fredrik Flyktkonsten (Nora, Örebro: Nya Doxa, 2006)) (Swedish)

External links

  • Grand Canyon Cemetery: Gunnar Widforss
  • Tribute to Gunnar Widforss
  • Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm: Painting 1984.05.0280
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