Monday 28 April 2014

Carl Larsson - Part 1

Carl Larsson in 1882

Carl Larsson (1853 – 1919) was born in 1853 in Stockholm, Sweden, to an extremely poor family, though his artistic talent emerged relatively early in his life. At the age of thirteen, his teacher at the school for the poor persuaded him to apply for enrolment at Principskolan, the preparatory department of the Swedish Royal Academy. During his first years there, he felt socially inferior, confused and shy. In 1869, aged sixteen, he was promoted to the “Antique School” of the same academy. There he gained confidence, and even became a central figure in student life; he also earned his first medal in life drawing.

After the Academy Larsson worked as a caricaturist for the humorous paper Kaspar, and as a graphic artist for the newspaper Ny Ilustrerad Tidning. His annual income was sufficient to allow him to help his parents financially. After several years working as an illustrator of books, magazines and newspapers, he moved to Paris in 1877, where he spent several frustrating years as a hardworking artist, but without any success. Larsson was not eager to establish contact with the French progressive Impressionists; instead, along with other Swedish artists, he cut himself off from the radical movement of change.

After two summers in Barbizon (in central France), the refuge of the plein-air painters, he settled down with his Swedish painter colleagues in 1882 in Grez-sur Loing, outside Paris, at a Scandinavian artists’ colony. It was there that he met the artist Karin Bergöö, who soon became his wife. This was to be a turning point in Larsson’s life. In Grez, he painted some of his most important works, now using watercolour, and very different from the oil painting technique he had previously employed.

Karin Bergöö, artist and wife of Carl Larsson

Carl and Karin had eight children and his family became Larsson’s favourite models. Many of the domestic interiors depicted were the work of Karin, who also worked as an interior designer. Their eight children were Suzanne (1884), Ulf (1887 – died aged 18), Pontus (1888), Lisbeth (1891), Brita (1893), Mats (1894 – died aged 2 months), Kersti (1896) and Esbjörn (1900). In 1888 the family was given a small house in Sundborn, Sweden by Karin’s father Adolf Bergöö. Carl and Karin decorated and furnished “Little Hyttnäs” according to their particular artistic taste. Through Larsson’s paintings and books “Little Hyttnäs” has become one of the most famous artist’s homes in the world. The house is now maintained by Larsson’s descendants and is open to tourists during the summer months.

Sundborn Interior

"Day is Done" by Carl Larsson 
pencil and watercolour

Larsson’s popularity increased considerably with the development of colour reproduction technology in the 1890s. Swedish publisher Bonnier published “A Home” (1894) written and illustrated by Larsson containing full colour reproductions of his  paintings of domestic life in “Little Hyttnäs”. However, the print runs of these rather expensive albums did not come close to that produced in 1909 by German publisher Karl Robert Langewiesche, entitled “The House in the Sun”. It became one of the German publishing industry’s best-sellers of the year, selling 40,000 copies in three months. By 2001 the book had enjoyed more than 40 print runs.

1899 Cover of "A Home" 24 Paintings by Carl Larsson

Larsson considered his monumental works, such as frescoes in schools, museums and other public buildings, to be his most important works. His last monumental work, Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice), a 6 x 14 metre oil on canvas completed in 1915, had been commissioned for a wall in the National Museum in Stockholm (which already had several of his works adorning its walls). However, on completion it was rejected by the governing board of the museum. Decades later, the painting was purchased and placed in the National Museum.

1914-15 Midwinter's Sacrifice 
oil on canvas 640 x 1360 cm 
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

In his memoirs, published after his death, Larsson declared his bitterness and disappointment over the rejection of the painting he himself considered to be his greatest achievement: “The fate of Midvinterblot broke me! This I admit with dark anger. And still, it was probably the best thing that could have happened, because my intuition tells – once again! – that this painting, with all its weaknesses, will one day, when I am gone, be honoured with a far better placement.”

Larsson admitted however, in the same memoirs, that the pictures of his family and home “became the most immediate and lasting part of my life’s work. For these pictures are of course a very genuine expression of my personality, of my deepest feelings, of all my limitless love for my wife and children.”
Biographical notes adapted from Wikipedia

This is part 1 of a 7-part post on the works of Carl Larsson:

1876 Woman Playing Strings 

1877 Chiaroscuro 
oil on canvas 130 x 103 cm

1878 Landscape Study from Barbizon

1878 Music by the Stream 
oil on canvas 32.5 x 23.5 cm

1878 The Artist Carl Skånberg 
oil on canvas 63 x 46 cm 
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

Note: I couldn't find dates for these early works (1870s - 1880s):

Angel Watering Flowers

Forbidden Fruit

Girl by a Flowering Hawthorn Bush 
oil on canvas 36 x 45.5 cm 
Konstmuseum, Gothenburg, Sweden

Girl Outdoors 

oil on canvas 
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden


Light Interior in Mora

Per Hasselberg 
indian ink on paper 16 x 12 cm

The Glassblowers

Toys in the Corner


1880 Dödens Engel (Dodens Angel) illustrated by Carl Larsson:

1880 Dödens Engel by Johan Olof Wallin

*          *          *          *          *

A Bite

1881 Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf in the Forest 
oil on canvas 37 x 45 cm

1881 ”I lövsprickningen” 
oil on canvas 50 x 61 cm

1882 Karin Relaxing 

1882 November 
Konstmuseum, Gothenburg, Sweden

1882 October ( The Pumpkins )

1882 Sewing

1883 Garden in Grez 

1883 In the Kitchen Garden 
watercolour 61 x 93 cm 
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

1883 The Bride

1883 The Old Man and the New Trees 
watercolour 93 x 61 cm 
Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden

1883 The Pond 

1884 Autumn 

1884 The Vine

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