From the Slums to World Fame: Carl Larsson

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Tomorrow marks the 155th anniversary of the birth of the Swedish painter Carl Larsson. Larsson was born into the slums of Stockholm and went on to become one of Sweden's most loved artists, famous throughout the world for his scenes of Swedish life. Larsson also painted monumental works, of which the greatly debated "Midvinterblot" was his last. A little background on Larsson and "Midvinterblot" (Midwinter Sacrifice)...

1. For a time, Carl Larsson lived and worked in Paris, hoping to exhibit his works at the Salons. He was unable to complete his first painting, a large 3-meter canvas, due to lack of funds. His second work, though completed, didn't fare much better, as it was hung so high at the Salon of 1878 that no one could see it.

2. In his bedroom, Larsson kept a pistol that carried the inscription "Note: not loaded."

3. Larsson is most famous for his watercolors of his family and their home, Little Hyttnäs. Some were painted as sequential picture stories, for which Larsson is now considered to be one of the earliest Swedish comic creators.

4. A German publisher, Karl Langweische, printed a collection of Larsson's watercolors, drawings, and text as Das Haus in der Sonne (The House in the Sun) in 1909. The book quickly became one of Germany's best-sellers for the year, with 40,000 copies sold in just three months.

5. "Midvinterblot," a depiction of the sacrifice of the king to the winter gods to allow the return of spring, had been commissioned by the National Museum in Stockholm. The museum found fault with various aspects of the 6x14 painting during the preliminary stages and, upon completion, rejected the work. In 1987, the painting was offered to the museum for free, on the condition that it be placed on the wall for which it had been intended; the museum declined. Only after a successful exhibition of "Midvinterblot," on loan to the museum by a Japanese collector, in 1992 did the museum buy the painting and put it on permanent display.

6. Larsson's autobiography, published 12 years after his death, revealed that he had suffered with self-doubt, despair, and depression, a revelation that surprised admirers of his bright, cheery artwork. Larsson, though, had grown up "in dismal circumstances" and felt inferior to his classmates for the first several years of school. His first wife suffered a miscarriage and then died while giving birth to their second child, who also died soon after. With Karin Bergöö, Larsson had 8 children, but one, Mats, died at 2 months of age. Given such losses, the despair and depression are no surprise.

A larger version of the final sketch of "Midvinterblot" is available here; a large image of the final work on the wall in the museum is available here. To see the evolution from first sketch to completed work, visit the Wikipedia page.

The web site for the Carl Larsson house includes a gallery, articles, and a shop, as well as information about visiting.

'Feel Art Again' appears every Tuesday and Thursday.

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May 27, 2008 - 11:03am
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