(1879 - 1934)
Gunnar Widforss was born
in Stockholm, Sweden. He was the son of Mauritz
Widforss and Blenda Carolina Weydenhayn, who were the
parents of thirteen children. Mauritz Widforss
(1836-1905) owned a hunting apparel retailer 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 Institute, now Konstfack,
University College of Arts, Crafts and Design. At the
age of sixteen, Widforss began his studies of painting at
the same school.
Following the completion of his studies at the Technical
Institute 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. 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
Soon after arriving in California in early 1921, Widforss
made his way to Yosemite Valley. He made it his
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.
In 1923 Widforss illustrated Harold Symmes book "Songs of
By the late summer of 1921, he had consigned his watercolors
to San Francisco's Gump Gallery and was painting and
exhibiting in Carmel. Thereafter he had successful
exhibitions in: Los Angeles at the Stendahl Galleries and
the California Water Color Society; the East Bay at the
Oakland Art Gallery and Hotel Oakland; and San Francisco at
the Rabjohn & Morcom Gallery and habitually at Gump's.
According to the U.S. Census in April 1930, he resided as
a lodger in the San Francisco home of Théophile Fritzen and
was an unmarried landscape artist who officially became a
naturalized citizen of the United States in 1929.
Widforss made his first trip to the Southwest in 1923,
visiting Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon National
The following year the artist made his only trip
to Yellowstone National Park where he made numerous
paintings of the spectacular canyon and falls of
the Yellowstone River.
In the 1930s, he was an artist for the Works Progress
Administration. He worked in Arizona, creating large
watercolors of the Salt River Valley and the Grand Canyon. Widforss lived briefly at the home of Emery and Ellsworth
Kolb, operators of the Kolb Studio on the South
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
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.
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-five. He was buried by his friends in
the Grand Canyon Pioneer Cemetery on the South Rim.
His estate contained over 150 finished and unfinished
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.
A few of his many paintings are shown below.