Hidden history

Painting, tucked away in Bowlus vault, could be worth $500K


Local News

May 26, 2018 - 7:26 PM

In the late-1960s, opera great and Iola native, Ernest Davis bequeathed “Autumn, Smoky River, Kansas” (1921), above, to the Bowlus Fine Arts Center. Today, the oil painting, by the Swedish-American artist Birger ​Sandzén, is valued between $300,000 and $500,000. Photo by Rick Danley

In January of 1922, nearly thirty years after swapping his native Sweden for the rolling plains of central Kansas, the painter Birger Sandzén received his first one-man show in New York City.

To this day, that exhibition at the Babcock Gallery, which revealed Sandzén at the very pinnacle of his creative powers, is considered the most prestigious show in the artist’s long career.

The audacities of technique and style that he’d absorbed from the European modernists and then applied to the New World landscape of his adopted Midwest — namely, the radical use of impasto, the vivid brushwork, the rippled surfaces, the liberation from strict realism, and, above everything else, the rich coloration — produced a newness of vision that forced the wider art world to take notice of this polite, middle-aged art professor from Lindsborg, Kansas.