Svend Rasmussen Svendsen was born March 21, 1864, in Nittedal, Norway, son of Rasmus and Marie Svendsen. Shortly after his birth, his parents moved to Oslo. He received his early schooling in Norway, although left school at the age of twelve to work. In 1881, he emigrated to America, settling in Chicago, IL. In 1890, he married May Isabel Newton with whom he had five children. Svendsen was erroneously reported to have died in 1930 and short obituaries for him appeared in various publications. He was known to have had a decline in his career due to alcoholism and other difficulties, as one of these obituaries pointed out. He actually died in Chicago, September 6, 1945.
Svensen is considered by some accounts to be a self-taught painter who was known to have enjoyed visiting the National Gallery as well as Blomquist’s gallery, both in Oslo, before he emigrated. He also studied with Fritz Thaulow, a well-known city and landscape painter, in Norway and at the Académie Delécluse in Paris in 1896 with Edward F. Ertz. He is known especially for his rural scenes, marine views, and snow scenes of Norway. His paintings were purchased by a number of Norwegian and American private collectors including Joseph Jefferson, Edward B. Butler and Clarence Darrow. Works by Svensen continue to be actively sold through contemporary art auctions.
Svendsen exhibited frequently at the Chicago Art Institute between 1895 and 1920, showing oil and watercolor paintings as well as pastels. He won the Young Fortnightly prize in 1895 awarded by the Chicago Art Institute. He also received an honorable mention for one of his works at the Nashville Exposition of 1897 and a bronze medal at the St. Louis Exposition of 1904.
He had one-man exhibitions at the W. Scott Thurber Galleries in Chicago between 1897 and 1903. He also exhibited at the National Academy of Design annual in 1902 and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts annual, 1898-1900 and 1902. In 1913, his name appeared on the register of the Chicago art dealer O.R. Kellogg. He is recorded to have exhibited at the Chicago Norske Klub in 1920. One of his paintings was shown at the Norse-American Centennial Art Exhibition at the Minnesota State Fair in 1925. He was also included in the exhibition, “Scandinavian Paintings in Northfield” in 1980. Two of his paintings were in the exhibit, “The Divided Heart: Scandinavian Immigrant Artists, 1850-1950,” shown at the University of Minnesota in 1982. Works by Svendsen were also shown at the “Norway in America” exhibition in Norway in 1989 and in the exhibit, “The Friedman Collection: Artists of Chicago,” in spring 2002 held at the Spanierman Gallery in Chicago.
Biography from Fine Arts Collection, Luther College: