With his vibrant watercolours capturing the essence of familial experiences, Carl Larsson stands as a true embodiment of the influential Arts and Crafts movement that left an indelible mark on Europe during the late nineteenth century. Larsson's unique vision of 'Swedishness' is deeply ingrained in the collective consciousness, whether through his portrayals of blooming meadows or the lively scenes of his children frolicking within the charming setting of his family home in Sundborn. Born in Stockholm's historic Gamla Stan district in 1853, Larsson's early years were marked by hardship, growing up amidst the poverty-stricken slums of the city. Nevertheless, Larsson's artistic talent and resilience propelled him to overcome adversity and achieve remarkable success, becoming an iconic figure in the world of art.
Carl Larsson, born in the historic district of Gamla Stan in Stockholm in 1853, endured a challenging childhood, growing up in the impoverished conditions of a Stockholm slum. However, amidst the difficulties, Larsson found solace and escape through the art of painting. At the young age of thirteen, he enrolled at the prestigious Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, where he honed his skills. By the time he turned eighteen, Larsson had already embarked on a career as an illustrator, which would provide him with steady employment for the next two decades. Through his artistic pursuits, Larsson found a means to overcome his tumultuous beginnings and establish himself as a respected artist.
Old Anna - 1895
Following several visits to Paris, where he immersed himself in painting within the academic tradition, Carl Larsson faced a series of rejections from the Parisian artistic establishment. One significant setback occurred when the jury of the prestigious Paris Salon refused to exhibit his large-scale piece, "At the Court Painter's." Although disappointed, Larsson remained determined. Frustrated by the rejection, he made a bold decision - he cut the artwork into pieces and distributed them among his friends. Undeterred, Larsson made a pivotal move, relocating 40 miles south of Paris to the picturesque village of Grez-sur-Loing. This change in scenery provided him with a fresh perspective and renewed inspiration for his artistic endeavors.
Grez-sur-Loing turned out to be a pivotal moment in Carl Larsson's artistic journey, as the vibrant artists' colony there embraced plein-air realism, attracting international artists studying in France. Larsson, like many Nordic painters, followed a unique path, and it was in Grez that he refined his signature watercolour technique. The presence of artists from England, America, Norway, and Japan created a fertile ground for the exchange of ideas and cross-pollination of artistic influences. This diverse artistic community nurtured Larsson's growth and provided him with a rich environment in which to develop his artistic style.
Old Flowers on the Windowsill - 1894
After a series of challenges, Carl Larsson experienced a turn of fortune when he crossed paths with his future wife and fellow artist, Karin Bergöö, at a dance in the village. Their connection deepened, leading to their marriage in Stockholm in June 1883. The couple returned to Grez the following year, and it was there that their daughter, Suzanne, was born. Young Suzanne became an ideal and joyous muse for Larsson, inspiring him to paint with newfound depth and maturity. This marked a significant turning point in Larsson's artistic journey, as he transitioned into a more mature phase, capturing the beauty and innocence of childhood through his art.
During the summer of 1895, Carl Larsson embarked on a visit to the village of Sundborn in the company of his father-in-law, Adolf Bergöö. It was there that they discovered a quaint property called Lilla Hyttnas, already occupied by Adolf's two sisters. This charming place would soon become the new home for Carl and Karin Larsson. Over the course of the following years, the Larssons transformed their residence into a truly remarkable space, blending the aesthetics of arts and crafts. Karin, utilizing her artistic talents, poured her creativity into designing textiles, furniture, and clothing for the entire family. Together, they created a unique and harmonious environment that reflected their artistic inclinations and became a testament to their shared vision.
The Kitchen - 1898
Over the span of the next twenty years, Carl Larsson dedicated himself to creating a captivating series of watercolours that beautifully portrayed his expanding family. These artworks celebrated the enchanting country idyll surrounding their home. Larsson's pieces predominantly focused on two main themes: the interior of their cottage and the picturesque grounds surrounding it. Through his art, Larsson captured the essence of their idyllic lifestyle, showcasing the warmth and harmony within their family. Each watercolour served as a delightful testament to their joyful experiences, offering a glimpse into the tranquil world they had created together.
Several of these intimate series of watercolours have made their way through the esteemed halls of Sotheby's auction house, gaining recognition and admiration from art enthusiasts. Notably, works such as "The Letter" (1885) captured the captivating image of Larsson's great aunt, Ulla, deeply engrossed in reading a letter amidst the backdrop of floral decorations and local handicrafts. Another notable piece, "Holiday Reading" (1916), portrayed Karin and their youngest son, Esbjörn, leisurely enjoying a sunny Sunday afternoon together. Today, Larsson's former home in Sundborn has been transformed into a museum, welcoming visitors to explore and immerse themselves in the world that inspired his extraordinary artworks.
At Home - 1894
During that same period, Carl Larsson engaged in a challenging and contentious battle to gain acceptance from the art authorities for his controversial mural, "Midvinterblot" (Midwinter Sacrifice). This mural served as a crucial component in Larsson's larger decorative scheme intended for the Stockholm National museum. Despite facing resistance and opposition, Larsson remained determined to see his artistic vision come to fruition. The mural conveyed powerful and evocative imagery, capturing the essence of a midwinter sacrificial ritual. Through this ambitious project, Larsson aimed to make a significant artistic contribution to the cultural landscape.
Despite the support received from friends, particularly fellow painter Anders Zorn, Carl Larsson ultimately had to concede in the face of widespread opposition to his mural "Midvinterblot" in 1916. It was during the same year, marked by this defeat, that Larsson completed the painting in question. Unfortunately, "Midvinterblot" did not find its permanent place on the walls of the Nationalmuseum until 1997, after it had been sold at Sotheby's ten years prior. This delayed recognition and acceptance of Larsson's controversial masterpiece speaks to the complex and sometimes challenging nature of the art world, where even remarkable works can face resistance and take time to be appreciated in their intended context.
Carl Larsson, Swedish artist, Midvinterblot, Stockholm National museum, Sundborn, Stockholm,Nordic painters, Royal Swedish Academy of Arts