Carl Larsson was born May 28, 1853, in Gamla stan, the “old town” section of Stockholm, Sweden. His impoverished childhood was brightened by the recognition and nurturing of the artistic talent he displayed. At age thirteen, Larsson followed a teacher’s advice and applied for admission to Principskolan, the preparatory division of the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts.
There Larsson initially struggled. Lacking social confidence, he felt like an outsider—yet he persevered. Three years later he advanced into the Academy, where his talents blossomed and he enjoyed popularity.
The academic training helped Larsson financially as well as socially. By providing illustrations for newspapers, magazines, and books, Larsson earned enough money to assist his destitute parents.
After a few years of such steady employment, Larsson moved to Paris to establish himself as an artist. Congregating mostly with other Swedish and Scandinavian artists—who intentionally averted mingling with the Impressionists—Larsson worked mostly in oils. He achieved precious little success: Larsson’s confidence and luck were faltering.
But in 1892, after moving to Grez-sur-Loing (an artist colony outside Paris), Carl Larsson met the artist Karin Bergöö. Larsson soon exchanged oils for watercolors and bachelorhood for wedded life. He and Karin Bergöö were married in 1883. In 1884 the first of their eight children was born. Four years and two additional offspring later, Karin Bergöö’s father presented the couple with Lilla Hyttnäs—a small house in Sundborn, Sweden.
As their family expanded, the couple devoted much attention toward remodeling and decorating their home, which became an integral part of Larsson’s paintings, rendered in lighthearted watercolors that document the family’s idyllic country life. Bergöö’s talents as a designer and decorator are showcased in the paintings; they continue to influence home décor.
Advances in publishing technology served Larsson well in the 1890s and early 1900s, as Swedish and German editions of his text accompanied by full-color reproductions of his watercolors became affordable and wildly popular.
Yet for all the success Larsson achieved with watercolors, he held his murals and other monumental work—commissioned for schools, museums, and other public buildings—in higher esteem. He was angry when his final such commission, Midvinterblot
(which Larsson considered his crowning creation), was rejected. In Jag,
Larsson’s posthumously published memoir, the artist wrote: “The fate of Midvinterblot
broke me! This I admit with subdued rage. Yet it was for the best . . . for this painting, with all its weaknesses, will be honored with a far better place some day after I am gone.” Midvinterblot
is now housed in Stockholm’s Nationalmuseum.
Lilla Hyttnäs, owned by Larsson’s descendants, is today one of the best-known and most beloved artist’s homes in the world. For information about guided tours, visit http://www.clg.se/envisningar.aspx.