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The Life and Paintings of Swedish Artist and Illustrator, Carl Larsson

Amanda is a keen artist and art historian with a particular interest in 19th-century art, especially the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Carl Larsson forged a successful career both as an artist and illustrator.

Carl Larsson forged a successful career both as an artist and illustrator.

A Life in Pictures

"As a rule, each room was home to three families; penury, filth and vice thrived there” These are the words of Artist and Illustrator Carl Larsson, describing his childhood in the slums of Stockholm in the 1850s and 1860s. Cholera and tuberculosis were rife amongst this densely packed, seething mass of humanity, and as a consequence, over 100,000 Swedes fled their homeland between 1868 and 1873 to immigrate to America. The Larssons, however, were not among them. They stayed in the slums moving through a series of squalid, temporary homes, until at last they ended up in Ladugardsland which Larsson was to describe in his autobiography as Hell on Earth.

Carl’s father was a casual labourer, an angry, bitter man who drank to excess and took his rages out on his hard-working wife and their two young sons. Carl’s mother was the family’s bedrock, working long hours as a laundress to provide security for her family. They frequently had little or nothing to eat, and their neighbours were prostitutes, murderers and thieves.

At the Poor School, Carl stood out despite his terrible circumstances. One of the teachers, Jacobsen, spotted the raw talent in his young pupil’s artwork and helped him to get a place at the art academy in Stockholm. In 1869, aged 16, Larsson graduated from the foundation class and joined the course on classical art. Meanwhile, his skill as a cartoonist and illustrator was already earning him commissions from the humorous paper Kasper and the newspaper Ny Illustrerad Tidning. He was soon able to help his family from his wages.

In 1877 Carl Larsson and his friend Ernst Josephson headed for Paris. They’d heard about the Impressionists, and other nascent art groups living and working in the French capital and thought they wanted to be in the thick of things, but eventually, however, the two friends and some other Swedish artists settled at Grez, 70 km from Paris. At Grez, Larsson learned to love watercolours, and he increasingly moved away from traditional oil paintings in favour of line and wash.

By 1879 Carl was ready to settle down, and around this time, he met his future wife, the artist Karin Bergoo whom he married in 1883. The couple was very happy together, and it is for his pictures of family life that Larsson is now best remembered. Karin gave birth to eight children, although one was to die as a tiny baby, and their son, Ulf, tragically died aged only 18. The Bergoo family gave the young couple a house called Lilla Hyttnas at Sundborn in Sweden as a gift in 1888, and the little house features in many of Larsson’s paintings and drawings.

Carl Larsson forged a successful career both as an artist and illustrator, providing a comfortable existence for his family. His works were accepted at the Paris Salon, and he also completed several large frescoes, most notably for the foyer of the Stockholm Opera.

Carl Larsson died on 22nd January 1919.

A beautiful video clip featuring many of Larsson's works

  • Thielska Galleriet
    Visit the Thielska Gallery in Stockholm to view more of Carl Larsson's work, as well as paintings by Edvard Munch and other Scandinavian artists.

Questions & Answers

Question: How much do Carl Larsson's paintings sell for?

Answer: Not all paintings are created equal, even when they are done by the same artist. Watercolours generally sell for less than oil paintings for example. A pleasing picture will sell for more than one that is less attractive, and so on. Carl Larsson's p[aintings generally sell for considerable sums, but there is no 'one size fits all' in the world of art. I recommend you research the range of prices achieved at auction by looking on the website. You can access auction price information without signing up to the website for no cost.


Amanda Severn (author) from UK on November 23, 2011:

Hi Enlydia, thank you for stopping by and commenting. Carl Larsson was certainly a gifted painter of family life.

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Enlydia Listener from trailer in the country on November 21, 2011:

That was an enjoyable read...I love his family paintings.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on May 14, 2010:

Hi Oliversmum, I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures. Carl Larsson is a great favourite of mine. I only wish my own paintings were even half as good!

oliversmum from australia on May 14, 2010:

Amanda Severn Hi. Thank you for guiding me to this hub.

What an artist he was. The colors and detail in every picture, they are all so beautiful.

I would love to own one or three of these paintings, especially love "Brita and Me" and "Lisbeth Fishing", but they are all magnificent.

Thank you for sharing Carl Larsson with us. I will be back many times to read your hub and look at these paintings. Thank you again. :) :)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 17, 2009:

Hi Tom,

I'm glad you enjoyed them Carl Larsson deserves a wider audience.

Tom rubenoff from United States on January 16, 2009:

Thanks for introducing me to this artist. The work has humor and inventiveness, and so much more depth for the story you share here.

Elena. from Madrid on January 15, 2009:

Nope, or not in a way that made him stick, anyway. Which makes reading this hub a double pleasure :-)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 15, 2009:

Hi Elena

Thanks for stopping by. Had you heard of Larsson before?

Elena. from Madrid on January 15, 2009:

Hi Amanda!  Same as VioletSun here, I prefer to leave these art hubs for a moment of relaxed enjoyment :-)  Glad I finally made it to this one, the combination of Larsson's life and work is very nice, thanks!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 15, 2009:

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your comments. I guess many Europeans have fled to your shores over the centuries hoping for a better life. Certainly the Irish emigrated in their thousands to escape the potato famine.

I will post some pictures of my own at some point. First I need to get some photos taken, and it's a matter of getting round to these things. There always seems to be something else more pressing!

As to Larsson himself, I think his images are familiar to all of us in a casual way, but because he is primarily an illustrator, I don't think that he has necessarily had the attention he deserves.

Christoph Reilly from St. Louis on January 15, 2009:

Very nice, as usual. Larsson is a painter who I have never known anything about. It was nice to become more familiar with him and peruse his work. I like his style...very much!

I knew we had some Swedes up around Minnesota (one of our colder climates...go figure!) but I hadn't considered that there was a reason for them coming here. Now I do.

Thank you for another great art hub! You are very knowledgeable about art. To echo a sentiment above, I too would like to see some of your paintings.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 15, 2009:

Hi VioletSun

I remember Kenny. I haven't seen him on hubpages for a while, but he does have some really good art appreciation hubs posted. Thanks for the thumbs up and I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures. As I mentioned in an earlier comment to PenmanZee I have posted the link to the Larsson home, Lilla Hyttnas, which is open to the public. There are a few more paintings on the site, and some extra biographical details, plus some photos of the house that Larsson made so famous.

VioletSun from Oregon/ Name: Marie on January 14, 2009:

You remind me of Kenny Wordsmith, another hubber who is a children's book illustrator and has fabulous hubs on art but he hasn't written in a long time. Sometimes, I leave your hubs to peruse in the evening, so I can fully relax and enjoy them.Thumbs up!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 14, 2009:

Hi PenmanZee,

I've been to France and Italy many times, but I want to go to the Prado in Madrid, and the museums in Amsterdam and Munich, Stockholm and Moscow. I'm very greedy. It's not enough to see these things in books.

Did you get to London on your travels? I can't comment on whether or not Europeans are cold, being one myself, but I know that I always find the Italians and the Irish particularly welcoming.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 14, 2009:

Hi Netters, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Larsson is definitely one of my favourites.

PenmanZee on January 14, 2009:

From what little I've seen of Europe, I think you're in for a treat. I enjoyed the sightsand historical monuments except for one thing, and maybe it's just me, but I wish Europeans were a little less cold.

Netters from Land of Enchantment - NM on January 14, 2009:

What a story. I love the paintings! Thank you.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 14, 2009:

Hi Storytellerrus,

I'm glad you've enjoyed this, as it was one of your comments on an earlier hub that inspired me to look these out. Larsson's story is a really special one, as he rose to prominence despite having the most unpromising start in life. You mentioned before that your ancestors were from that part of the world. Were they amongst the Swedish emigrees that I mention in the hub?

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 14, 2009:

Hi Penmanzee,

One day, when the kids have grown up and flown the nest, we plan to travel around Europe and check out all the big galleries and special places. Lilla Hyttnas is definitely on my list. It must have been quite something for someone like Larsson who grew up in abject poverty amongst the scum of the earth, to have met, and been accepted and loved by Karin Bergoo. I think it must have been a true love match, and you can see how lovingly he has painted her with Suzanne (their eldest) and how lovingly she is looking at him while he works at his art.

Barbara from Stepping past clutter on January 13, 2009:

I have several of these on little soap trays. I do love them! Thanks so much for sharing some new paintings with me.

PenmanZee on January 13, 2009:

Hi Amanda,

I looked up the link and there's a wealth of information there. Staying with Karin, I read that she fell head over heel in love with Carl when they met and she was his muse (whatever that is) in his art. No wonder she looked so serene. Believe me, my first thought when I saw the painting that she's content with life and somewhere in my thinking was the thought that her husband loved her and she was happy with him. I am rambling but hey... that's the power of art.

Oh Anjuli, I agree with you. Whether I paint or take photographs, I prefer nature scenes minus people. They tend to mess up the scenery.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 13, 2009:

Hi Brian

Thanks for stopping by, and for your words of encouragement. I'm hoping to get a hub of my work up at some point, and then you can better judge whether I'm worth encouraging! LOL!

Hi Anjuli,

I'm the opposite to you, as I love to paint people in preference to landscapes, although I've been known to do both. I'm glad you liked the Larssons, as he's a big favourite of mine.

anjalichugh from New York on January 13, 2009:

I did some water color and acrylic painting back in my school days but somehow I could only confine myself to landscape drawing; I could never draw faces. LOL

It used be such a rejuvenating activity but as years rolled by, writing and hard core writing replaced the beautiful, soothing and refreshing painting hobby. The pictures shown in your hub were really exquisite with, truly, great sense of detail. Thx for sharing.

Brian Stephens from Laroque des Alberes, France on January 13, 2009:

Amazing artwork, I know several people who have artistic skills and never use them. I would give my left arm (I'm right handed) to have that sort of skill and cannot understand why they would not use such talent, please don't be another. If you have got it flaunt it.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 13, 2009:

CW, You're advice is always excellent. I'll let you know how I get on!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 13, 2009:

Hi PenmanZee. Your favourite is also my favourite. That is a portrait of Larsson's wife Karin with their baby daughter Suzanne, and is a painting as opposed to an illustration. If you click on the link at the bottom of the hub it takes you to the web-site of the Larsson family home which is now open to the public. You get an idea from it of how inspiring it must have been for Larsson especially coming from such a deprived city background.

countrywomen from Washington, USA on January 13, 2009:

Remember the resolution(as per Lita's suggestion) the other day to stay at 29 forever.  I am sure if you keep receiving good feedback then the dedication will come by itself. Just keep continuing painting whatever subject is closest to your heart and the results may follow very soon.

PenmanZee on January 13, 2009:

The tones are defined yet warm. This is great art and makes one feel the atmosphere and mood of the place. I especially love the young woman holding a baby. She looks very content with life. Thanks for sharing

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 13, 2009:

I'm probably getting a bit old to make it as an artist, plus I don't have the dedication, but it's a good thought!

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 13, 2009:


Yes, learn to paint. It's very relaxing. I think the Swedish light probably helps with Larsson's paintings. If you look at other Scandinavian artists, you will also see that same quality.

countrywomen from Washington, USA on January 13, 2009:

Its a good resolution for keeps. And who knows maybe one these days you will become a famous painter earning lots of money and fame.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 13, 2009:

I paint, but not as much as I'd like to. Work gets in the way (LOL) But this year I've decided to get more done. I think that counts as a New Year Resolution, but hopefully one that I'll keep!

countrywomen from Washington, USA on January 13, 2009:

Seeing so may arty folks like you, SweetiePie and others makes me take to art now. Those are some really great paintings. Those summer days seem so bright and right compared to the present dark winter days.

Cris A from Manila, Philippines on January 13, 2009:

You paint? Wow! maybe you should share some of your work here in HP. I'm a frustrated artist - though i still dabble in drawing, charcoal mostly but that's just about it. I don't have the patience for watercolor, hate it when it runs and acrylics are just not practical, at least for me! LOL

I agree, it's the tempered lightness of Larsson's work that catches the eye and hold it! :D

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 13, 2009:

I agree about the watercolours. I have used them, but these days I mostly paint in acrylics. They're much kinder when you make a mistake! I think Larsson's work is very controlled. The attention to detail is breathtaking, and the colour and light give the impression of perpetual summer days.

Cris A from Manila, Philippines on January 13, 2009:

I absolutely love this Amanda! The impressionist approach to his illustrations and paintings are really masterful - and to think watercolour is one of the hardest type of painting there is. Thanks for sharing his life and some of his work, It is much appreciated :D

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