Zorn was born and raised on his grandparents' farm in Yvraden, a hamlet near the village of Utmeland in the parish of Mora, Dalarna. He studied until the age of twelve in the school at Mora Strand before pro-gressing in the autumn of 1872 to a secondary grammar school in Enkping.
From 1875 to 1880 Zorn studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts in Stockholm, where he amazed his teachers with his talent. Members of Stockholm society approached him with commissions. This was how Zorn met Emma Lamm, early in 1881, whose background was different from Zorn's. Coming from a wealthy Jewish merchant family, she was interested in art and culture, and, after a long engagement, they were married in a civil ceremony in October 1885.
Zorn travelled extensively to London, Paris, the Balkans, Spain, Italy, and the United States, becoming an international success as one of the most acclaimed painters of his era. It was primarily his skill as a portrait painter that gained Zorn international acclaim based principally upon his incisive ability to depict the indi-vidual character of his model. His subjects included three American Presidents, one of whom was Grover Cleveland in 1899, as well as his wife, along with William H. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt. At 29, he was made a Chevalier de la Lgion d'honneur at the Exposition Universelle 1889 Paris World Fair.