The Thinking 

More on Carl Larsson

August 3, 2012


Esbjorn Doing His Homework, Carl Larsson, 1912

MEREDITH writes:

It pained me to read that some of the Swedish painter Carl Larsson’s critics questioned the happiness of that family, and called him a hypocrite.  What rot!  And how wonderful that he had such a family and a haven to retreat to, as all men should.  It allowed him to go on, and continue to paint, and we all benefit from his work today.

I definitely see the Larsson influence at IKEA. Please don’t judge. I admit to having frequented that store lately, because their prices are right and I really do appreciate the style and engineering of some of their furniture. All of the pieces that I gravitate to are simple, and look like something that one might expect to encounter at the Larsson home, Lilla Hyttnäs. (And that easel that I bought for my kids was the best $15.00 I’ve ever spent!)

I am actually encouraged when I see this in a store like IKEA, because those pieces are there because they appeal to a more traditionally-minded consumer who may have a limited budget. The Hemnes series (which I admire) keeps expanding, and on their new catalog their latest version of the classic wing chair sits front and center, the epitome of the cozy chair by the flickering fire (although, here in central Texas it’s never really cold enough for a crackling fire, and few ever light their fireplace, IF they even have one) or the perfect place to snuggle with a sleepy child to read a book. Yes, it’s true.  IKEA does have some really ugly furniture, but those things are so trendy that they pass out of existence within a couple of years, while the classics remain the same.

Laura writes:

With regard to Meredith’s initial point, I was unable to find a full-scale English biography of Larsson. I’m sure his family was not perfectly happy. No family is. The important thing, however, in appreciating his works and the house, which I have never visited, is the vision they represent.

The Larsson’s dining room is an intimate and interesting room painted in a deep orange and green. It has built-in bookshelves. Larsson enjoyed reading Dickens to his children during meals, he said.

Thomas F. Bertonneau writes:

On the question whether or not Karl Larsson actually enjoyed the happy family life attributed to him by some and denied by others — just as an experiment, let’s say he was miserable and his family was miserable. How does this alter the representation of domestic happiness in the paintings? It would hardly seem to do so. Or we might suppose that we knew nothing at all about Larsson, but only had the paintings. How again would our perception be changed? I can’t see that it would be changed at all. By the same token, August Strindberg’s plays would be just as morbid as they are if poor old August had lived the opposite of his angst-ridden and masochistic life.

I’m deeply suspicious of the supposedly biographical claims that want to put Larsson in a dim light or otherwise besmirch his reputation. This is a standard leftwing gesture the purpose of which is to attack the good because it is the good.

Your readers who take an interest in Larsson might also find nourishment in the work of his Danish contemporary (more or less) Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864 – 1916), as here, here, and here. And here is a good online gallery of his work. Hammershøi’s is a quieter, more somber view of domesticity than Larsson’s, imbued perhaps by the piety of Danish Lutheranism.

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