22 Facts About Carl Larsson, The Swedish Artist, and Illustrator

The Studio, From A Home Watercolor Series, Carl Larsson

Carl Larsson is an iconic Swedish Artist. If you travel to Sweden, you will find the reproduction of many of his prints and artwork on various products. He is like the Norman Rockwell of Sweden as he painted so many wonderful scenes from the Swedish daily life in a way that no one else has since.

Carl Larsson was born into dire poverty but raised himself out of poverty through his artwork. He married Karin Bergöö, a fellow artist. Together they had eight children. Many of his most famous paintings come from the many family scenes he painted of his wife and children in their home in Sundborn, Sweden. Through his paintings and their home design, Carl and his wife Karin influenced Swedish art and design. Today you can visit their house and garden in Sundborn. Sweden.

Mamma's and the Small Girls Room by Carl Larsson
Mamma’s and the Small Girls Room by Carl Larsson

Here are some of our favorite facts about the amazing Swedish Artist Carl Larsson and his wife, Karin Bergöö Larsson.

Fact 1: Carl Larsson Was Born Int mo Dire Poverty

Carl Larsson was born in 1853 in Gamla Stan (Old Town) of Stockholm 1853. His family was impoverished, and his childhood was not very happy.

The family was said to have lived in many places that were filled with filth and squalor. They would live in places where maybe three or four families would live together in tiny and tight quarters. These homes were filled with a lot of diseases as cholera.

In speaking of his childhood and growing up Renate Puvogel in her book Carl Larsson wrote:

“His mother was thrown out of the house, together with Carl and his brother Johan; after enduring a series of temporary dwellings, the family moved into Grev Magnigränd No. 7 (later No. 5) in what was then Ladugårdsplan, present-day Östermalm”

Renate Puvogel

By all accounts, Carl Larsson’s mother seems to have been a good woman. She worked very hard as a laundress to try to help provide for the family. But despite this, their circumstances were challenging.

Fact 2: His Father Was A Drunk and Loveless Man

His father was a day labor and sailor. Larsson would later describe his father as a loveless man who lacked a lot of self-control. His father would rant and rave and was said to have lifelong anger towards his son.

Carl Larsson’s father was said to have said to Carl:

“I curse the day you were born.”

carl larsson’s father
Untitled by Carl Larsson
Untitled by Carl Larsson

Fact 3: Age Thirteen He Applied to The Royal Swedish Academy of Arts

At the age of thirteen, his teacher at his school for poor children encouraged him to apply to the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. He was accepted into the Academy. During his first few years at the Academy, Carl Larsson felt socially inferior and shy.

Fact 4: He Earned Enough to Support His Parents

At the age of sixteen (1869), Carl Larrson was promoted to the Antique School at the Royals Swedish Academy of Art. This finally gave him some confidence, and he became a central figure in the student life at the Academy.

Carl earned his first medal at the Academy with some of his nude drawings. He was also working as a caricaturist for the Swedish paper Kasper and as a graphic artist for the newspaper Ny Illustrerad Tidning. He was also working as a part-time illustrator of books and magazines. His annual wages allowed him to be able to support his parents financially.

School Girl in An Interior By Carl Larsson
School Girl in An Interior By Carl Larsson

Fact 5: Studied in Paris

In 1877, Carl Larsson was financially successful enough to move to Paris to further his studies and his art. It was said that he spent several frustrating years as an artist without a lot of success. Though impressionist was the movement in Paris, Carl Larsson was not eager to be part of that movement and did not associate with the impressionist movement.

Fact 6: Joined a Swedish Artistic Colony Outside Paris

Carl Larsson spent two summers in Barbizon, France. It was in Barbizon that many of the impressionists and other Plein-air painters were located.

In 1882 he settled down in Grez-sur-Loing near Barbizon in a Scandinavian artist colony in France. It was in this Scandivanvian artist colony that he met his wife, Karin Bergöö. Karin was also a Swedish artist and designer.

During this time of his life, his painting works also changed as he also started to work in watercolor, which was a lot different than the oil painting techniques he had been using.

Julaftonen by Carl Larsson
Julaftonen by Carl Larsson

Fact 7: Carl and Karin Had Eight Children

Carl and Karin fell in love, returned to Stockholm, and were married in 1883. They moved back to Grez-sur-long France and stayed there a year when their first child Suzanne was born in 1884. The following year in 1885, they returned to Sweden.

The Larsson eight children are: Suzanne (b.1884), Ulf (b1887), Pontus (b.1888), Lisbeth (b. 1891), Brita (b.1893), Mats (b.1894). Kersti (b.1896) and Esbjorn (b.1990).

Fact 8: His Children Were Used As Models For His Artwork

With such a large family, Carl Larsson had many models he could use for his paintings. Many of his paintings feature his children or other friends and family. He painted many paintings of his wife, Karin. It can be said that his family and home became his favorite art subjects and models.

You can view rare footage of Carl Larsson, Karin, and some of their children and others at his house in 1916. This film actually shows him setting up his easel and painting. Click on the link below.

Fact 9: His Wife Karin Was An Interior Designer

Many of the Interiors featured in his paintings are the works of his wife, Karin Larsson.

Karin Larsson was born Karin Bergöö in 1859. She would have been 6 years younger than her husband, Carl Larsson. Her father was a successful businessman, and her younger sister married the famous Swedish geologist, Francis Arthur Bather.

Karin showed artistic talent early in life. In 1877 she also studied at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts. It was after she completed her studies at the Academy that she moved to Grez-sur-long, France, and met and married Carl Larsson.

Fact 10: Karin Acted As Carl’s Art Critic

By all accounts, Karin Larsson was a very successful and talented artist. Carl Larsson is said to have depended on her and her artistic sense of style and design. She was known to be his sounding board and art critic.

With a house to run and eight children to take care of, she channeled her own artistic pursuits into the interior and other design. Here are some ways she used her art and design talents:

  • She designed a large amount of the textiles in their home
  • She made her designed textiles by handweaving them.
  • She embroidered and designed clothes for herself and her children.
  • She designed furniture for their home and had local carpenters make it.

In fact, Karin can be credited to helping to found what would become a recognizable Swedish style. The striped pinafore worn by her and the other women who worked at Sundborn is known as karinfökläde in Swedish.

Daddy's Room, From A Home Watercolor Series, by Carl Larsson
Daddy’s Room, From A Home Watercolor Series, by Carl Larsson

Fact 11: The Larsson’s Were Given A House in Sundborn, Sweden

Karin’s father gave them a small house in 1888 named Lilla Hyttnäs in Sundborn, just outside Falun in Dalarna, Sweden. This tiny timbered cottage was originally built in 1837. Carl and Karin decorated and furnished this little house according to their own artistic taste and style.

Carl Larsson painted his family in this house, so the interior and the exterior of this little house are the most viewed and recognizable artistic homes in the world.

In speaking of this house and his paintings it was said:

“Carl’s paintings and books have made Lilla Hyttnäs one of the world’s most familiar homes. But not only that. The quality of the light, Karin’s liberated gift for interior design and the lively family life as it is depicted in Carl’s beloved watercolours, has become almost synonymous with our picture of Sweden.

The house still looks the same as it did when Carl and Karin lived there and today’s visitor to Lilla Hyttnäs can almost hear the animated laughter of the children and catch the scent of the artist’s oil paints.”

Carl larsson Garden – Sundborn

You can see each room of the house’s actual photos by visiting the website Carl Larsson Garden – Sundborn by clicking here.

Fact 12: Karin Larsson Influenced Swedish Interior and Textile Design

Karin Larsson deserves to have a lot of credit for changing the Swedish style into what it is today. At the time of Carl and Karin Larsson, many of the interiors of homes in Sweden were dark with heavy furniture.

Karin Larsson brought bright interiors with a blend of Swedish folk design influences. Her sense of style is clearly depicted in Carl Larsson’s paintings.

In her new Swedish style, she removed curtains and placed furniture along the walls. She had practical rooms used by the family as a sofa in the corner for a nap as a dog lies down on a rug. Carl Larsson’s paintings and his home all have a sense of a house with style but is functional and well-lived in.

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London in honoring Karin Larsson for her contribution to textile design said:

“Karin’s textiles were absolutely original. Pre-modern in character they introduced a new abstract style in tapestry. Her bold compositions were executed in vibrant colours; her embroidery frequently used stylised plants. In black and white linen she reinterpreted Japanese motifs. Technically adventurous, she explored folk techniques and experimented with others. A good example of her bold weaving is the tapestry ”The Four Elements” that she composed in 1903 to be hung above the new sofa in the dining room.”

Victoria & Albert Museum
Cosy Corner, From a Home Watercolor Series by Carl Larsson
Cozy Corner, From a Home Watercolor Series by Carl Larsson

Fact 13: Carl and Karin Worked Together On Their Home Design

This easy kind of design that Sweden is now known for as being both functional and simple yet bright and airy was a new look during the time of Carl and Karin Larsson. When you look at Karin’s style that Carl Larsson painted, you can see a house where light and color were essential, and each part of the house had a function.

In 997, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London gave Karin Larsson some credit for her interior design of the Carl Larsson house. In speaking about Karin and Carl Larsson and how they worked together on the design of their home, they said:

“At Sundborn the Larssons developed an aesthetic partnership. He was effusive, covering the walls with foliage and flowers, she arranged the living flowers, but in her designs austere and often abstract. The colours of the interior seem to have been jointly decided. Their combined contributions created a perfect whole”

victoria & Albert museum

Fact 14: Carl Larsson’s Popularity Increased With The Colored Printing Press

In the 1890s, when color reproduction technology was starting to be widely used in the printing industry, Booner. a Swedish publisher, published a book written and illustrated by Carl Larsson. These books contained full-color reproductions of many of his watercolors. For the first time, many Swedes were able to see the colored reproductions of his actual paintings. These books were expensive, and due to the cost, the distribution of the book was limited.

Fact 15: His Books Became Very Successful

In 1909, printing colored books became more widely distributed, and the German Publishers Karl Rober Langewiesche decided to publish Carl Larsson’s book. His books became an almost overnight bestseller.

Here is some information on this 1909 print run of his book:

  • 40,000 copies were sold in a 3 months period.
  • As of today, this same book has had over 40 print runs.
  • Carl and Karin Larsson were overwhelmed by the book’s success; it was not something they expected.
Crayfishing, From a Home Watercolor Series, by Carl Larsson
Crayfishing, From a Home Watercolor Series, by Carl Larsson

Fact 16: Carl Larsson Considered His Most Important Work To Be In Public Spaces

Carl Larsson considered his most important work to be paintings he did as frescos in schools, museums, and other public buildings. The last important work like this that he did was the Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice) for the National Museum in Stockholm.

The Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice) was a 20 ft by 46 ft (6 Meter by 13 Meter) oil painting he completed in 1915. The painting was to be on a wall of the National Museum in Stockholm. Once the Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice) painting was completed, it was rejected by the museum’s board of directors even though the Museum already had several of Larsson’s fresco’s on its museum walls.

Fact 17: Carl Larsson was Bitter Over the Rejection of the Midvinterblot Painting

Larsson was very bitter over the rejection of the Midvinterblot painting. In his memoirs called Jag. which was published after Larsson’s death, he said this about his bitterness over the Museum’s rejection of his Midvinterblot painting:

“The fate of Midvinterblot broke me! This I admit with subdued rage. Yet it was for the best – once again my intuition tells me that now – for this painting, with all its weaknesses, will be honoured with a far better place some day after I am gone”

Carl Larsson
Midvinterblot by Carl Larsson
Midvinterblot by Carl Larsson

Fact 18: Midvinterblot’s Controversy Continued for Years.

The controversy with the Midvinterblot painting continued for many years. In 1987 the National Museum was offered the painting for free because it would be placed on the empty wall in which it had been originally intended. The Museum refused this offer, so the painting was sold to the Japanese art collector Hiroshi Ishizuka.

In 1992, Hiroshi agreed to loan the painting to the museum for it’s major Carl Larsson exhibition. During this exhibition, it was hung at the place where the painting was originally intended.

Public opinion changed the art experts’ view of the painting. Private donations were collected, and the museum purchased the painting from Hiroshi. In 1997, Midvinterblot finally returned home to Sweden and is now displayed in Carl Larsson originally intended for it. We need to all believe that Carl Larsson is happy that his beloved MIdvinderblot painting has finally made its way back home to the National Museum in Stockholm, Sweden.

Fact 19: Paintings of His Family Are His Life’s Work

Despite his disappointment with the Midvinterblot painting and its rejection by the National Museum, Carl Larsson understood that his home and family’s paintings were some of his most important life’s work.

in his memoirs, Carl Larsson said this about his paintings of his wife, children, and their home:

“(These pictures) became the most immediate and lasting part of my life’s work. For these pictures are of course a very genuine expression of my personality, of my deepest feelings, of all my limitless love for my wife and children.”

carl larsson

Fact 20: Carl Larsson Suffered From Depression and Other Medical Problems

In his later life, Carl Larsson suffered from bouts of depression. Also, while working on this Midvinterblot painting, he experienced eye problems and frequent headaches.

In early January 1919, he suffered from a stroke and knew he would soon die. He spent the rest of his time left working on his memoirs. He died at the end of January 1919 and is buried in the cemetery of the Sundborn Church near his beloved home

Britta's Forty Winks, From A Home Watercolor Series, by Carl Larsson
Britta’s Forty Winks, From A Home Watercolor Series, by Carl Larsson

Fact 21: His Work Is Representative of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Carl Larsson’s work is representative of the Arts and Crafts Movement. To find out more about the Arts and Crafts Movement, you can read our blog What Are The Characteristics Of The Arts And Crafts Movement? by clicking here.

Fact 22: You Can Visit the Carl and Karin Larsson Home

If you travel to Sweden, do not miss out on visiting the Carl and Karin Larsson family home in Sundborn. Sweden. The house is in a lovely setting with a garden, and you can see first hand where many of Carl Larsson’s paintings were painted.

Above the entrance is to the home is a sign that says, “Welcome to the Home of Carl Larsson and His Spouse.” This invitation from the artist and his wife Karin is an invitation for us to come into his home and to be part of their lives.

You can find out more about how to visit the Larsson Family Home and Garden by clicking here.

Carl Larsson painted the scenes of his home and family over 100 years ago. His paintings draw us into his home, life and family still resonate with us today as they did over 100 years ago. He is one artist whose artwork has been able to pass the relevance test of time.

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Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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