One of the leading portraitists of his day, Anders Zorn painted his august sitters with a bravado akin to that of his contemporary John Singer Sargent. Zorn's signature vigorous brushwork is on full display in his rendering of Adolphus Busch, co-founder of the St. Louis brewery Anheuser-Busch. Composed of loose but controlled strokes, Adolphus stands with his left arm akimbo while he rests his steely gaze beyond the picture plane. A German immigrant who built one of the largest breweries in the United States, he appears every inch the intense businessman he was.
Adolphus Busch arrived in St. Louis in 1857 and shortly thereafter set up a brewery supply business with his brother Ulrich. The Busch brothers had the great fortune early on of having the prosperous brewer Eberhard Anheuser as a client, who also happened to have two eligible daughters. In 1861, Adolphus and Ulrich married Anheuser's daughters Lilly (see lot 44) and Ann in a double ceremony, thereby solidifying a beer empire. After Anheuser's death in 1879, Adolphus added the Busch name to his late father-in-law's brewing company and took over as president. By then business was booming thanks to Adolphus' new lighter and less sweet beer called 'Budweiser.' In addition to his triumphs in the beer industry, Adolphus went on to corner the market on the manufacturing of diesel engines, become a bank president and to build the luxury hotel, The Adolphus, that is still in operation in Dallas today.
The consummate power portraitist, it is no surprise that Busch chose Zorn to capture his likeness as the Swedish artist was much sought after in the United States. After his American debut at the 1893 World's Fair, Zorn received requests for commissions from the new class of millionaires and three U. S. presidents (fig. 1). The present work was executed during Zorn's second trip to the United States from 1896 to 1897. While in St. Louis, Zorn must have had the Busches sit for their portraits. However, Zorn may have also been aided by a contemporary photograph of Adolphus that bears a striking resemblance to this painting (fig. 2).
Zorn's portraits of the Busches may have been one more paid commission, or they may have held a personal resonance for the artist. Zorn's father was a German brewer who seduced a young seasonal employee at the brewery. Zorn grew up alone with that brewery employee and never met his father.