Carl Larsson’s Ideal Home: 3 Books and Murals 1899-1919

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Self-Portrait (In the new studio) (1912), watercolour on paper, 54.3 x 75 cm, Malmö konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

After his sustained work to assemble the series of watercolours for it, Carl Larsson’s first book, A Home, was published in 1899, and proved popular in the Nordic countries given its relatively expensive production.

But that year also proved a difficult time for the family, when Karin Larsson became gravely ill.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Greetings (for Karin’s Day) (1899), further details not known.

In Greetings (for Karin’s Day) (1899), Larsson not only celebrates his wife’s name day, but also her recovery from that illness. The family are here surrounded by the fruits of Karin Larsson’s interior design.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), A Fairy (1899), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.

Larsson continued to paint more personal works which were not intended for reproduction in his books, including A Fairy (1899). This follows on from his earlier more Impressionist paintings, and again uses his favourite colour contrast of red against green.

In 1900, Larsson was awarded a First Class medal at the World Exposition in Paris.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Getting Ready for a Game (1901), oil on canvas, 68 x 92 cm, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, Sweden. Courtesy of Nationalmuseum, via Wikimedia Commons.

Getting Ready for a Game (1901) shows Karin Larsson preparing a tray of very adult refreshments, while two of their young daughters watch from behind the more appropriate teaset. From the layout of the room seen through the open door, the grown-ups are about to enjoy an evening of cards together with friends.

In 1902, a second collection of Larsson’s watercolours was published under the title Larssons (The Larssons), which sold well and has even been reproduced in a modern facsimile edition.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Model Writing Postcards (1906), watercolour, 68 × 100 cm, Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

Model Writing Postcards (1906) is an interesting painting, not only for the odd incongruity of its nude model who is engaged in writing postcards, but for its inclusion of two paintings within the painting. That on the easel at the left is presumably the painting on which Larsson and the model are currently working, and appears to be a figure study for one of his larger murals, perhaps.

In 1906, Larsson’s third book, Spadarfvet, Our Place in the Country was published, and proved as popular as his first.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), A Girl and a Rocking Chair (1907), watercolor on paper, 54.3 x 75 cm, Malmö konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

A Girl and a Rocking Chair (1907) is a relatively quick sketch showing a young daughter dressed for the bitter weather at Christmas, with the family’s tree already decorated behind her.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Gustav Vasa’s procession into Stockholm, 1523 (1907), oil on canvas, 700 x 1400 cm, Nationalmuseum Stockholm. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1907, Larsson completed his mural of Gustav Vasa’s procession into Stockholm, 1523 which was hung with his other commissioned murals in the National Museum in Stockholm, part of a series of murals which he had been working on since the mid-1890s.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), After the Prom (1908), watercolor on paper, 52.6 x 74.5 cm, Malmö konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

After the Prom (1908) shows what I believe to be one of their older daughters, probably Suzanne (then 24), at the end of a Prom in the University of Stockholm. Behind her is an inscription explaining the two large murals on each side, which were probably painted by Carl Larsson. His easel and some paintings at the right suggest that he may have been painting other portraits that night.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Karin by the Shore (1908), watercolor on paper, 54.3 x 75 cm, Malmö konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

Karin by the Shore (1908) is a carefully-composed full-length portrait of Larsson’s wife.

In 1909, a selection of Larsson’s watercolours was published in Germany under the title Das Haus in der Sonne (The House in the Sun); this was an instant success, selling forty thousand copies in the first three months, and was frequently reprinted thereafter.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Self-Portrait (In the new studio) (1912), watercolour on paper, 54.3 x 75 cm, Malmö konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons.

When Larsson painted his Self-Portrait in his new studio in 1912, he sits back with the ease of a successful artist in his late fities. Around him are the creature comforts furnished by that success, and designed by his wife. There are some gentle touches of eccentricity, like the sword passing through the huge book open in front of him, and the statue whose feet are propping the book up. At the time, he was unaware of the storm which was about to break at the end of his career.

Larsson’s last, and what he intended to be his greatest, mural for the National Museum was drawn from the mythical sagas of the Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson, with additional material from Adam of Bremen. Larsson wanted it to form a contrast with the other murals which he had already painted.

Carl Larsson (1853–1919), Midvinterblot (Midwinter’s Sacrifice) (1914-15), oil on canvas, 640 x 1360 cm, Nationalmuseum Stockholm. Wikimedia Commons.

It shows a dramatic scene which does not have any parallel in official Swedish history, of the sacrifice of the mythical King Domalde. According to Snorri Sturluson, there had been many years of crop failures, and the gods had demanded pagan sacrifice to appease them and ease the suffering of the people.

Here, in the midwinter, the king has been dragged on a gilded sled in front of a temple in ancient Uppsala (to the north of Stockholm). The high priest who is to perform the sacrifice conceals the knife behind his back, as the king is about to step off the sled onto the altar.

At the far left, women are in religious ecstasy, behind priests who blow ritual horns. Beside them is a miniature earthly Yggdrasil, which Adam of Bremen reported was evergreen. At the far right are the king’s warrior chiefs, following the sled.

Larsson completed the massive painting, and it was exhibited where it was intended to go in June 1915, before it was rejected and removed. Larsson retreated into writing his autobiography, which he completed shortly before his death in 1919. His final masterpiece had still not been accepted, and he was bitter to the end.

Although the painting was exhibited at the National Museum between 1925-1933, it wasn’t installed in its intended place until 1997. By that time, it had been sold to a private collector in Japan, and the museum had to buy it back.


Carl Larsson: how a loved and popular painter became lost in controversy (this blog)

Puvogel, Renate (1994, 2003) Carl Larsson, Watercolours and Drawings, Taschen. ISBN 978 3 822 88572 7.