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The Life and Paintings of Swedish artist and illustrator, Carl Larsson

Updated on August 8, 2016
Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda is a keen Artist and Art Historian with a particular interest in 19th century art, particularly the work of the Pre-Raphaelites

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 60s. 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. It was Carl’s mother who was the bed-rock of the family 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, and he was 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, 70km from Paris. It was at Grez that 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 were 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.

Brita and Me! Self-portrait 1895

The fifth child is two years old here, and her name is included with her father's initials. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
The fifth child is two years old here, and her name is included with her father's initials. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Karin and Suzanne in Paris 1885

by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Mother's Thoughts

Source

Name Day at the Storage House 1898

Name Day at the Storage House by Carl Larsson. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Name Day at the Storage House by Carl Larsson. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Breakfast under the big birch, 1896

Breakfast under the Big Birch by Carl Larsson, 1896. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Breakfast under the Big Birch by Carl Larsson, 1896. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Christmas Eve 1904

Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson, 1904. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Christmas Eve by Carl Larsson, 1904. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Lisbeth Fishing 1898

Lisbeth Fishing by Carl Larsson, 1898. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Lisbeth Fishing by Carl Larsson, 1898. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Summer

Summer by Carl Larsson. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Summer by Carl Larsson. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Flowers on the Windowsill 1894

Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

My Friends, the Carpenter and the Painter

My Friends, the Carpenter and the Painter, by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
My Friends, the Carpenter and the Painter, by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Mrs Dora Lamm and her two eldest sons, 1903

Mrs Dora Lamm & her two eldest sons by Carl Larsson, 1903. Oil on canvas, property of National Museum of Sweden. Courtesy  of Wiki Commons
Mrs Dora Lamm & her two eldest sons by Carl Larsson, 1903. Oil on canvas, property of National Museum of Sweden. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Model with postcards 1906

Model with postcards by Carl Larsson, 1906. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Model with postcards by Carl Larsson, 1906. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Sunflowers

Sunflowers by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Sunflowers by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Under The Chesnut Tree

Under the Chesnut Tree by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Under the Chesnut Tree by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Playing Scales

Playing Scales by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Playing Scales by Carl Larsson. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

The Bridge, 1912

The Bridge by Carl Larsson, 1912. Courtesy of Wiki Commons
The Bridge by Carl Larsson, 1912. Courtesy of Wiki Commons

A beautiful video clip featuring many of Larsson's works

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  • Cris A profile image

    Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

    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

  • Amanda Severn profile image
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    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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 profile image

    Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

    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

  • countrywomen profile image

    countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

    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.

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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 profile image

    countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

    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 profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    Hi CW

    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.

  • Amanda Severn profile image
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    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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!

  • PenmanZee profile image

    PenmanZee 8 years ago

    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

  • countrywomen profile image

    countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

    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.

  • Amanda Severn profile image
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    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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.

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

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

  • BrianS profile image

    Brian Stephens 8 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

    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.

  • anjalichugh profile image

    anjalichugh 8 years ago from New York

    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.

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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.

  • PenmanZee profile image

    PenmanZee 8 years ago

    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.

  • Storytellersrus profile image

    Barbara 8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

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

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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.

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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?

  • Netters profile image

    Netters 8 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

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

  • PenmanZee profile image

    PenmanZee 8 years ago

    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.

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

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

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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.

  • VioletSun profile image

    VioletSun 8 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

    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 profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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.

  • Christoph Reilly profile image

    Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

    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 profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    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.

  • Elena. profile image

    Elena. 8 years ago from Madrid

    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 profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    Hi Elena

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

  • Elena. profile image

    Elena. 8 years ago from Madrid

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

  • Tom Rubenoff profile image

    Tom Rubenoff 8 years ago from United States

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

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 8 years ago from UK

    Hi Tom,

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

  • oliversmum profile image

    oliversmum 7 years ago from australia

    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 profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

    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!

  • Enlydia Listener profile image

    Enlydia Listener 5 years ago from trailer in the country

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

  • Amanda Severn profile image
    Author

    Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK

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

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