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Birger Sandzén: The Van Gogh of Kansas

Lindsborg | Inspiration |Growing Reputation | Sandzén At Auction

By Circle Auction | Dec 2019 


The real artist will find beauty in almost any kind of surroundings. He is able to draw inspiration from quite insignificant and common-place things because his soul is in tune with all creation. He sees with the curious eyes of a child, his naive love and admiration touch nature with a magic wand and conjure up marvelous visions. His imagination is a living and creative power.”  – Birger Sandzén, “The Southwest as a Sketching Ground” (1915)

From Sweden To Lindsborg KS: 

How did a native of Sweden come to be known as Kansas’ most famous artist and one of the great painters of the American Southwest? 
Sven Birger Sandzén (1871-1954) called nature “the great teacher.” A native of Sweden, Sandzén was fascinated by both nature and art from an early age. He trained under Anders Zorn in Stockholm and Edmond Francois Aman-Jean in Paris before emigrating to Lindsborg, KS at the age of 23 to become a professor at Bethany College. He soon fell in love — both with his new rural surroundings and with his future wife, Alfrida Leksell, whom he married in 1900. Adopting the midwest as his permanent home, he spent the rest of his life painting and drawing the low rolling hills of Western Kansas and the majestic Rockies.

Regional Inspiration:

By the early 1910s, Sandzén had emerged with a unique expressionist style of painting. His brilliant colors and thick, textural brush strokes seem to blend and vibrate as you step away from the canvas. While he painted portraits and still life, Sandzén was mostly interested in landscapes. He painted the views near his home in Lindsborg and traveled frequently throughout the American Southwest and into Mexico. Some of his favorite areas included Graham County, KS, Yellowstone National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park.



National Reputation: 

After a showing at the Babcock Galleries in New York in 1922, Sandzén gained broader national acclaim. His paintings exhibited frequently in leading museums and galleries throughout the United States, as well as France, Italy, and his native Sweden. He often was hailed as “the American Van Gogh.”

Sandzén received honorary doctorates from Midland College, the University of Nebraska, and Kansas State University and was a featured guest instructor at many universities. He received permanent offers from other institutions but always turned them down, remaining loyal to Bethany College, where he became head of the art department until he retired from teaching in 1946. 

Sandzén completed over 2600 oil paintings and 500 watercolors in his lifetime, as well as many bold lithographs, block prints, and countless drawings.

Today, Sandzén’s work can be found at the Birger Sandzén Memorial Gallery in Lindsborg, KS, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the New Mexico Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the Denver Art Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and many others


Birger Sandzén At Auction: 

Sandzén’s lithographs and linocuts often sell between $200-$1000, depending on rarity. Original oil paintings generally achieve upwards of $15,000 while large and notable paintings exceed $100,000. 
In 2011, Sandzén’s painting, “Summer in the Mountains” (1923), sold for $632,500, a new record for a Sandzén work sold at auction.

Birger Sandzén wanted to open Americans’ eyes to recognize the beauty of their own country. He said, “my gift to America is to make one realize how beautiful the simplest landscape is and how alive, vigorous and changing our trees and rocks are. The gift of understanding beauty is the greatest anyone can make to another human being.”


Circle Auction Presents the Birger Sandzén Collection:

On Nov. 23rd Circle Auction presents Part 1 of the Birger Sandzén Collection, as a part of our Art + Antiques auction. Online bidding starts Nov. 23rd at 10am and will be open for two weeks. Live online bidding begins Dec.7th at 10am.

The collection is highlighted by five original oil paintings:

  • Cedar and Red Rocks, circa 1922.  Oil on canvas 36″ x 48″
  • The Old Mill, 1929. Oil on canvas 22″ x 28″
  • Utah Farm Barns (Logan, Utah), 1929. Oil on board 20″ x 24″
  • Untitled (Roses), 1915. Oil on canvas 20 1/4″ x 14 1/4″
  • Untitled (Crane and Teapot), 1915. Oil on canvas 20 1/4″ x 14 1/4″

In addition to the original oil paintings, this auction features an original watercolor and 65 signed limited lithographs, woodcuts, and linocuts. Many of the prints are from lower numbered editions. 


 If you a Birger Sandzén lithograph or painting and would like to know it’s potential auction value, you can fill out our free auction evaluation here.



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