The Life and Paintings of Swedish artist and illustrator, Carl Larsson
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
Karin and Suzanne in Paris 1885
Name Day at the Storage House 1898
Breakfast under the big birch, 1896
Christmas Eve 1904
Lisbeth Fishing 1898
Flowers on the Windowsill 1894
My Friends, the Carpenter and the Painter
Mrs Dora Lamm and her two eldest sons, 1903
Model with postcards 1906
Under The Chesnut Tree
The Bridge, 1912
A beautiful video clip featuring many of Larsson's works
Carl Larsson at the Thielska Gallery, Stockholm
- 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.