June 13 – November 3, 2013
at Konstakademien, The Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, on Fredsgatan 12
Carl Larsson is one of Sweden’s best-known and best-loved artists, widely recognized for his images of his own family and home. But who was he? What did his contemporaries think of him, and how did he see other people and himself?
The various threads in the exhibition narrative follow Carl Larsson from his student years and early career to his home in Sundborn and his increasing politicization against the backdrop of the First World War. We also follow him to bohemian Paris and the artists’ colony in Grez-sur-Loing, where his art took on a new direction and he met his future wife, Karin Bergöö, a fellow artist.
Carl Larsson came from a humble background and initially had a hard time establishing himself as an artist. However, after his breakthrough in 1882, he enjoyed great success and won many prestigious commissions. He was a personal friend or acquaintance of most members of Sweden’s cultural elite and occupied a central position in fin de siècle cultural life. Among the highlights of his oeuvre is a series of portraits of contemporary cultural personalities.
Carl and Karin were close friends with Anders and Emma Zorn. The exhibition examines this friendship in depth and also covers Larsson’s close relationships with some of the great art collectors and patrons of his day.
Despite his success, Carl Larsson did not go unchallenged. This was especially true in the case of the public art commissions he won, such as the stairwell murals at Nationalmuseum. The conservative establishment headed by King Oscar II was highly critical of his art, while his politically radical artistic friends considered him too conservative. Larsson was badly stung by the criticism.
One friend who turned into a bitter enemy was August Strindberg. He and Larsson had been friends since the early 1880s, but in his 1908 work, A New Blue Book, Strindberg made a withering attack on Carl and Karin under the heading “Fabricated Characters”. Thereafter, Larsson nurtured a desire for revenge on his former friend.
Karin Larsson trained as an artist in Stockholm and Paris, but gave up painting after marrying Carl, who on several occasions spoke disparagingly of female artists in general.
Karin found an outlet for her creativity in decorating the family home, which could be described as a joint artistic project encompassing not only design, but also attitudes to family life and various lifestyle choices.
Thanks to the books of watercolour scenes from Sundborn, the lifestyle project created by the Larssons resonated to an extent that is hard to overestimate. A particular focus of the exhibition is Carl’s many snapshots and portraits of Karin.
Many of Carl Larsson’s best-known works depict his own family and social circle. His books about domestic life at Lilla Hyttnäs in Sundborn (in the Dalarna region of Sweden) not only laid the foundations of his own popularity, but also created the notion of the happy, beautiful home in the minds of millions of readers.
Carl Larsson’s bitter description in his autobiography of his dark childhood contrasts starkly with the light and joy that permeate so much of his art. Through a mixture of self-portraits, photographs and other images, the exhibition tries to present a true picture of the man at the centre of the circle.