Carl Larsson - The Swedish Painter

by Sannel

Carl Larsson and his wife Karin, are one of the most well-known couples in Sweden, whose life, art and design have come to characterize the idyllic picture of Sweden.

Carl Larsson, the Swedish famous painter, is indubitable the most popular and loved artist in Sweden. The Realist painter and his wife Karin, was and still is one of the most well-known couples in Sweden, whose life, art and design have come to characterize the idyllic picture of Sweden that is cherished the world over.

Their legendary and charming home that the couple created together has established the widespread idea of the Swedish domestic design and lifestyle and has become one of the most famous artist-homes in the world. Carl and Karin Larsson's home are now a treasured, inspirational and well-visited home to people from not only Sweden, but all over the world.

Carl Larsson
Carl Larsson
Unhappy childhood

Carl Larsson was born into a poor family in 1853, in a district which is today known as, “the old town” in Stockholm. Carl and his brother had a very unhappy childhood, with a father who drank and lacked self-control.

Larsson portrayed his father to be a ranting and loveless man. The fathers constant outburst towards his son; "I curse the day you were born" incurred lifelong anger in Carl towards his father. The mother was working as a laundress. Through her hard and very tiring job she provided the family with their everyday needs.

Some years later the parents split up, and after a few years the mother with her two children moved into a slum housing district in Stockholm, which are today known as "Östermalm." They had to share a room with two other families. The living standard was extremely poor, and they lived in an environment that was filthy, harsh and a breeding ground for cholera. 






Carl Larsson's paintings
The Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm

Because the family was so poverty-stricken, Carl attended a special school for poor children. However, at the age of thirteen, his teacher saw Carl's talent, which he probably had inherited from his grandfather, on his mother's side who was a painter by trade, and urged him to apply to the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm.

Carl was admitted, but as a shy young boy, he felt insecure, awkward and socially inferior. However, that changed three years later, when he at the age of sixteen was promoted to the "antique school" of the same academy, there he gained confidence and even earned his first medal in nude drawing. Furthermore, Carl become a key figure in the student circle.

During his years as a student he worked as a graphic artist for the newspaper Ny illustrerad tidning, as well as a caricaturist for the humorous paper Kasper. With his sufficient wages, he shared his pay to help his parents. As a young man, Carl continued his work as an illustrator of newspapers, magazines and books.

Hard working and troublesome years

Later at the age of twenty-four, he moved to Paris, where he spent several troublesome years as a hardworking artist without any fortune and luck. Carl had no desire to form contact with the French progressive impressionists. Instead, along with other Swedish artists, he shut himself off from the radical movement of change and in 1882, at the age of twenty nine, he settled down with his fellow Swedish painter colleagues, in Grez-sur-Loing, a Scandinavian artists' colony outside of Paris.

It was here that Carl met the six year younger artist Karin Bergöö. (Born on October 3, 1859) Karin who had also studied at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1877 to 1882, had followed the same path as Carl and moved to the Scandinavian artist colony, where she soon met her future husband to be.  

Carl Larsson's Lucia Celebration
Carl Larsson's Lucia Celebration
Turning point

This would be the breaking point in Carl Larssons life. This would be the time that Carl painted some of his most influential works, now in watercolor and very unlike from the oil painting technique he had used before. The couple got married in 1883, and after a couple of years in Paris, the couple returned back home to Sweden, first to Stockholm and then to Gothenburg, where Carl worked as a teacher at Valands Art College.  

Carl's favorite models

In 1884, his firstborn child out of eight, was born. The daughter, named Suzanne, should become together with the rest of her siblings, Carl's favorite models. Those watercolors paintings of his children are now loved and cherished all over the world.

The couples eight children included:

Suzanne (1884)

Ulf (1887, who died at 18)

Pontus (1888)

Lisbeth (1891)

Brita (1893)

Mats (1894, who died at 2 months)

Kersti (1896)

Esbjörn (1900)

In 1888, the large family, now in a desperate need of a larger home was given a cottage by Karin's father, Adolf Bergöö, a successful businessman. This small cottage was named Lilla Hyttnäs located in the picturesque village of Sundborn, outside the town of Falun. This house should in the future become one of the most famous artist-homes in the world.

Karin Larsson and Suzanne
Karin Larsson and Suzanne
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Karin Larsson

Karin's expertise in textiles, should soon turn the little cottage into a beautiful, artistic home. She designed and made everything herself, from clothes for her and her children to bedspreads, curtains, wall hangings and rugs. She had a loom which she used to wove upholstery, tapestries, portieres and so on. However, her artistic achievements did not stop just there. She designed some of the furniture as well, such as tables, chandeliers, plant stands, rocking chairs and the beds for the children. The couple had the help from local craftsmen that carried out and finished the designs that Carl and Karin had drawn up. Furthermore, the local women helped them with the tasks of the large family. Some of those craftsmen and women became inspiration and models to many of Carl's paintings. 

Karin Larsson
Karin Larsson
The Swedish style

Carl and Karin formed and furnished their house according to their own lovely interior, done in “the Swedish style.” In contrast to the dark Victorian which ruled in the same era with its over opulence, Carl and Karin choose light and bright, with vivid color combinations such as red and green in open and user friendly rooms. There was no “best parlor” as in earlier times with closed doors and restrictions. The bold interior decoration, the modern textiles and the rustic furniture has become the characteristics of true Swedish interior design. 


Carl decorated the home with his paintings. However, not always on a canvas but also on ceilings, walls, murals, doors, windows, cabinets and borders. He painted even lettering of quotes and sayings, which he composed. The quote; “Älsken Hvarandra, Barn, Ty Kärleken är Allt,” meaning “ Children, We Should Love One Another, Because Love is Everything, was painted on the wall in the dining room.


Carl and Karin Larsson's home
Carl and Karin Larsson's home
Idyllic Swedish lifestyle

Karin and Carl had so much love and affection for their cottage, and they lived an idyllic and loving family life in the picturesque village of Sundborn. Carl’s paintings of the various activities and scenes in and around the cottage Lilla Hyttnäs, just shows the authentication of that charm.

As a matter of fact, these portrayals of an idyllic Swedish lifestyle was adequately for the people in that period of time to come and visit the village and the legendary home as tourists, and take part of that idyll themselves. However, the visitors at the time was not even remotely close to the numbers of the early 21st century, with around 60.000 visitors per year.

After the death of their parents, the surviving children established the “Carl and Karin Larsson Family Association” in order to preserve their parents' home just as it was. As such, it has become a meaningful heritage site, representing a typical Swedish way of life. Through Carl Larsson´s paintings and his books this legendary house has become one of the most famous artist-homes in the world. 

Carl Larsson's Winter
The House in the Sun

With the new development of color reproduction technology in the 1890s, the Swedish publisher Bonnier, started to publish books written and illustrated in full color reproductions of his watercolors and Carl's popularity escalated considerably.

However, the print runs of these rather high-priced albums did not come near to that produced in 1909, by the German publisher Karl Robert Langewiesche. His selection of watercolors, drawings and text by Carl Larsson titled Das Haus in der Sonne (The House in the Sun), instantaneously became one of the German industry's best-sellers of the year, with a whopping 40,000 copies sold in three months, and more than 40 print runs have been produced up to 2001. Carl and Karin was overwhelmed by such success. 

Midwinter Sacrifice

His last monumental work Midwinter Sacrifice completed in 1915, a 6 by 14-meter (20×46ft) oil painting was meant for the last wall in the staircase of the Swedish National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm, which had not yet been decorated by Carl Larsson, was declined by the board of the museum.

In his memoirs, published after Carl Larssons death, he declared his bitterness and disappointment with this brush off and refusal against the painting he himself believed his finest work as an artist.

In his memoirs “Jag Carl Larsson “ wrote; “The fate of Midwinter Sacrifice broke me ! This I admit with a dark anger. And still, it was probably the best thing that could happen, for now my intuition tells me again, that for all its weakness, this painting will be honored with a far better place after my death."

Carl mentioned in the same memoirs that the paintings of his wife, children and home "became the most immediate and lasting part of my life's work. For these paintings are of course a very genuine expression of my personality, of my deepest feelings, of all my limitless love for my wife and children."

January 22, 1919, four years after he finished Midwinter Sacrifice, Carl Larsson past away at the age of sixty six. Karin Larsson past away Februari18, 1928. 

Midwinter Sacrifice
Midwinter Sacrifice
His most valuable works

The copyright on Carl Larsson’s published images expired in 1969, fifty years after his death. In the early 1970s, Carl Larsson’s captivating, beautiful and charming paintings received international distribution, and with their universal interest brought “the Swedish style” to even wider recognition.

More than 350 Larssons paintings and watercolors were sold at auctions. Some watercolors brought in more than half a million US dollars. Carl believed his monumental works, for instance the frescos in schools, museums and other public buildings, to be his most valuable works.

Conflicts and dispute over Carl Larsson's Midwinter sacrifice

Conflicts between different schools of Swedish artists, caused the Midwinter Sacrifice"Midvinterblot" dispute to continue for many years. In 1987, the museum received a proposal to get the monumental painting for free, compromised it would be hanging on the empty wall for which it had been intended, but the museum refused the offer, so the painting was sold to the Japanese collector Hiroshi Ishizuka.

In 1992, the Japanese collector cooperated to lend it to the museum for its major Carl Larsson exhibition, where it was adorn in the place it was intended. The public's admiration changed the experts view about the painting, and with the aid of private donations, the museum was able to buy it from Hiroshi Ishizuka in 1997, and for all time be displayed, where Carl Larsson initially wanted it to be adorn, by the last wall in the staircase.



©Copyright 2012 By Sannel Larson.


Thank you for reading,



Updated: 03/30/2015, Sannel
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Sannel on 03/30/2015

Matthew, Carl Larsson's paintings brings lightness, tranquility and happiness to the soul. I especially love his paintings because of that reason. They leave me with harmony and beauty in both mind and heart. I'm so happy to hear that this Swedish artist brings you this inspiration. Thank you for your time and inspiring comment. I appreciate it very much.

MatthewZhu on 03/29/2015

His painting inspired me a lot. As a Chinese country boy who lives in the hustle and bustle of a heavily polluted city and fails to achieve my painter dream, I find serenity in his pastroral paintings.

cmoneyspinner on 10/28/2013

Super husband and wife team!!! :)

Sannel on 08/20/2012

Yes Rose, me too!

Rose on 08/14/2012

I love the Lucia Celebration picture!

Sannel on 08/14/2012

Hello Mira! I'm so sorry for my late response to you. Yes, I agree! So simple yet so much depth and full of life. I'm glad you enjoyed the read, and I hope one day you will visit this famous home in Sweden. Thank you for your time and lovely words.

Mira on 08/09/2012

I keep looking at the composition of the St. Lucia Celebration -- quite interesting: nice and simple, emphasizing vertical planes in the foreground, middle ground, and background. It was great to read about him. Maybe I'll get to Sweden one day and see his house :-)

Sannel on 06/26/2012

Hello Fibonacci! So true! I feel the same way. Thank you for your time and great comment.

Sannel on 06/25/2012

Hi 2uesday! Carl Larsson used colors and lightness that gave this painter his characteristics. His paintings brings the admirer a feeling of happiness and joy. I love to look at his paintings, because they leave me walking away with pure bliss and beauty in both mind and heart. Thank you for your lovely visit and great input.

Sannel on 06/22/2012

Hello brl! Yes, it sure has! The once harsh and filthy neighborhood, a breeding ground for cholera, are now an attractive section in the Capital. If they had known, lol! Thanks for your time and great comment!

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