Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Swedish Venus: Model Writing Postcards by Carl Larsson

Model Writing Postcards (1906)

It's been very hot and humid where Triple P lives and he spent most of yesterday over at his friend A's house.  A had decided to dispense with clothes for the day and she pottered around the house completely naked.  At one point she sat down to write a shopping list and I was reminded of this watercolour by Swedish painter Carl Larsson.

The Model on the Table (1906)

It is a lovely image of a model taking a break from posing to write some postcards (the emails of the day - Europeans sent huge numbers of postcards to each other at the beginning of the twentieth century). In the foreground can be seen another painting by Larsson, Model on the Table, which depicts a real (perhaps the same) model posing on a table with a couple of mannequins.

Reclining Nude on Blue Sofa

Carl Larsson (1853-1919) was brought up in a very poor family and his scholarship from a special poor school to the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts provided him with a real escape from an unsettled and unpleasant childhood.  While studying in Stockholm he also worked as a caricaturist and graphic artist for several  Swedish newspapers, earning enough to support his destitute parents.

Nude with grapes (1872)

Larsson had already developed a facility for drawing the nude and earned a medal from the Academy for his nude drawing.  This example, done when he was nineteen, shows an idealised classical style, so different from his later, realistic, illustrative style.

Karin Larsson

After several years working as a book illustrator, he moved to Paris but did not get on with the French artistic scene. In 1882 he moved to Grez-sur-Loing, a Scandinavian artists' colony outside Paris and developed his distinctive watercolour style.  It was there that he met his future wife, another artist,  the beautiful and talented, Karin Bergöö. They got married the following year and their first child (of eight) was born the year after that.  

Leontine, Bare Backed Sitting in the Studio (1902)

Leontine standing (1902)

They returned to Sweden and, luckily for them, Karin's father was a wealthy businessman who bought them a cottage in the village of Sundborn, where her father had been born..  The couple decorated it themselves in a mixture of British Arts and Crafts style (they subscribed to The Studio, the movement's magazine), Swedish folk design and Japanese style, influenced by the popular prints of the time.  The biggest influence, however, was Karin who employed her artistic skills to design and weave fabrics for the house.  She also designed furniture, working with local craftsmen.  Eschewing the usual gloomy, dark Swedish style of the time they created a home full of light and colour.  

Rose and Back

Lisa with Flower Pot (1910)

My Wife

The English style, wild garden was becoming popular in Sweden at the time and gardens became places to relax and enjoy the outdoors rather than just somewhere to grow vegetables. Karin loved her garden and her flower arrangements often appear in Carl's paintings (as in the right of Model Reading Postcards).

When the Children Have Gone to Bed (1895)

It was also Karin who gave Carl the idea of doing paintings of the interiors of their house and these pictures were released as prints and in books.  The first of these, Ett Hem (A home), published in 1898, is still in print today. It was the technological developments in colour printing, from 1890, which enabled Larsson to produce prints and albums of his work, enhancing his reputation, considerably.

In 1909 a German publisher produced another book of his work called Das Haus in der Sonne featuring Larsson's drawings and paintings of  their house.  It sold 40,000 copies in three months and since then has been reprinted more than 40 times.  It showcased the Larsson's ideas about interior decoration to the world.

Larsson's House in the Sun

The Larsson's house, Lilla Hyttnäs, today (the part of the house in the painting is at the far left)

This book created the new 'Swedish Style' which has been so influential on interior designers ever since.  Every time you see painted old furniture or blue or green pastel painted wooden walls in someone's house it is because of the Larssons. The Larssons' house became so famous that people came to visit it as tourists.  Their home, preserved as it was, in still owned by their family and is now open to the public in the summer.  It receives about 60,000 visitors a year.

Girl crouching (1911)

Apart from his nudes and interior studies Larsson was a wonderful portraitist, often using his children as subjects.  He also produced book illustrations, landscapes and other pictures of the village and countryside where he lived.

Midvinterblot (1914)

Despite the popularity of his domestic interior watercolours, Larsson believed that his own best works were his large murals.  He had produced three of these for the Swedish National Museum's interior but the final one, which he considered his masterpiece, Midvinterblot (Mid Winter Sacrifice), was rejected by the museum's board.  The controversy split the Swedish art establishment and even the government became involved.  The rejection of the picture hit Larsson hard and he suffered from bouts of depression.  The historical subject was considered not appropriate for Sweden's new modern view of itself at the time. Eventually, it was sold to a Japanese collector in 1987 who then lent it back to the National Museum where it became rehabilitated in the eyes of the Swedish public.  Eventually, the museum raised the money to buy it back and it was installed in the place it was designed for.

During the time he was painting Midvinterblot, Larsson started to suffer with eye problems and headaches. He concentrated on finishing his memoirs and died in February 1919.  In his posthumously published memoirs he acknowledged that his domestic pictures were really the ultimate expression of his personality and his love for his family.

In front of the Mirror (1898)

The copyright on his published pictures expired in 1969 and from this point his pictures were distributed widely, building his and Karin's reputation and that of Swedish Style, to where it is today.  Now you can buy Carl Larsson colouring books and calendars.

Carl and Karin Larsson

Agent Triple P has some Swedish blood so we will have more Swedish Venuses over the next few weeks.


  1. I don't suppose that A is the same one who has recently featured prominently in the Chronicles?

    1. No! My friend A now wasn't even born then (as she regularly reminds) me! She did ask me if they had the same name but they don't!

    2. She would be 54 by now! I am nowhere near that!

  2. Fantastic work! It's frequently too hot for clothes here in Texas...

    1. Indeed. But none of us have air conditioning! Fortunately A has a pool so we just jump in that if it gets really bad.

  3. I really like Larsson's style; it seems very familiar (reading your blurb probably explains why) eve though I didn't know his work by name. Shall definitely investigate further..and not just the nudes...his interior pieces you've showcased here are stunning.

    1. There are lots of books of his work. An original watercolour would set you back $500,000!

  4. Fascinating couple who quietly changed the world.

    Just one thing, I am sure Midvinter is translated to Midwinter, not Midsummer. I did have to check on Google translate.

    1. Particularly embarrassing as I am one eighth Swedish. Not that it is a particularly challenging translation...

  5. Visually it looks like the french BD artist Jean-Pierre Gibrat has taken inspiration from these in colour palette and depiction of females. If you don't know his work you should take a look - he knows how to draw beautiful women!