Carl Oscar Borg Biography

Carl Oscar Borg




Swedish born Carl Oscar Borg (1879-1947) painter, printmaker, poet, collector, was a self-taught artist. His childhood was profoundly impoverished but it didn't dampen his curiosity or his passion for learning. He left his homeland at the age of 20 and worked his way from Dunkirk to London and eventually traded passage to America for painting the cabin of the ship's captain. In Virginia, he joined the crew of the S. S. Arizona and set sail for California. The ship first docked in Santa Monica in September 1903 and Borg explored the town and the hills.

When the ship anchored in San Francisco, he jumped ship and returned to Los Angeles on foot. Driven by a desire to paint, he endured hardship, destitution and ill health. Borg eventually met other artists and generous supporters who enabled him to paint and his first painting exhibition was in 1906. Phoebe Hearst invited him to her home in 1909 and he flourished under her patronage and friendship. She financed his trip to Central America and later to Europe where he traveled extensively, painted, and gained entry into the European exhibitions.

While in Paris he purchased a press and taught himself printmaking and in 1913 he had a solo exhibition in Paris which was a resounding success. Escaping war-torn Paris, he returned to San Francisco in December 1914. During a brief respite from travel, Borg participated in the Panama-Pacific Exposition where his work was awarded a silver medal and he joined the San Francisco Society of Etchers.

In 1916 he set off to explore the American Southwest where lived with the Hopi and Navajo tribes and was initiated into the Hopi Snake Clan. His paintings of the Southwest were exhibited at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco in 1917. His reputation firmly established regionally, nationally, and internationally that Borg was one of the foremost romantic painters of the American West. He moved to Los Angeles and taught at the California Art Institute and later to Santa Barbara where he briefly taught at the School of the Arts.

Primarily known as a painter and etcher, he was also adept at watercolor, wood engraving, monotypes, and photography. He was a member of numerous art organizations, i.e. California Watercolor Society, Academy of Western Painters, and Société des Artistes Français. The repositories of his work include the de Young Museum; Library of Congress; Lowie Museum, UC Berkeley; National Museum of American Art; the Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris; and Gothenburg Ethnological Museum, Sweden.