Ett Hem

Carl_Larsson_-_Matsalen_-_Ett_hem_-_1899The primary source of inspiration for Sweden’s “most beloved” artist Carl Larsson was, for a period of time, his country home, Lilla Hyttnäs (Little Cabin Point)—due largely to the rain. The summer of 1894 was a particularly wet one. Larsson was pacing. Worried, perhaps, that her husband was about to plummet into another bout of depression, Karin, his wife, urged him “to draw all the walls of the little cottage” as he had once talked of doing.[1] He took out his watercolors and didn’t put down his brushes for three years, until he had captured the house’s interior décor meticulously, room by room. Sometimes he painted alone, the room empty except for Kapo, his dog; sometimes he painted in a crowd, the walls embracing his wife or one or more of his seven children—the eighth yet to be born—celebrating a birthday, gazing out the window, or looking straight at their portrayer, having been reprimanded. And in one instance, in the dining room, he gained the company of a mouse.

In truth, the idea of home for Larsson—who was formally trained at the Royal Academy—as for other Swedish painters in the late nineteenth century, loomed large. Home was “the epitome of rootedness,” the wellspring of Swedish identity, of a movement called National Romanticism, which aimed to nurture social change by drawing on the past and the traditions of the peasants, their connection to the landscape.[2]

He and Karin, also an artist, had inherited Lilla Hyttnäs from Karin’s father several years earlier. The couple decided to turn their new home into an artistic statement: an egalitarian aesthetic in which the made-by-hand coexisted comfortably with objects of an aristocratic history. Influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement in England, Larsson designed their beds and dining room table and chairs in an indigenous peasant style and had them made by local craftsmen; he carved the doors and cupboards, painted the furniture and the moldings, and added decorative flourishes to the walls. Karin knitted and wove various tapestries and textiles, which she made into curtains, slipcovers, and rugs. And together they had the cottage enlarged to hold their substantial family.

In 1899 the artist accepted an invitation to have the series of twenty-four watercolors reproduced and published with the title Ett Hem (A Home). It was an instant bestseller, better than the best shelter magazine, and the cottage’s design became the touchstone for Swedish style in the twentieth century.

 

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[1] Carl Larsson, The Autobiography of Sweden’s Most Beloved Artist, trans. Ann B. Weissmann, Penfield Press, 1992.

[2] Michelle Facos, Nationalism and the Nordic Imagination: Swedish Art of the 1890s, University of California Press, 1998.

 

(Image Matsalen reproduced for non-commercial use only)


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