Carl Larsson - Family Comics

Lisbeth, my child, do not poke my paining, it is wet!

Lisbeth immediately stops and turns her back to the easel.

Lisbeth, if you touch my sketch, you will be spanked!

Lisbeth is a bit perplexed, still, she lifts her index-. 

Lisbeth, don´t you dare!

Lisbeth changes her mind, but can´t get the idea from her head.

Now mum and dad can´t take it any more (they burst out laughing) - Lisbeth had to poke!

As you can see from the above, Lisbeth is a real character!

This charming and loving little comic was drawn by Swedish artist Carl Larsson for his book "De Mina" (= my family) from 1895. I found it when I was browsing "Svenska teckningar - 1800-talet" (= Swedish drawings from the 19th century).  He is most famous for his paintings of his home in Sundborn, which was created by his wife, Karin (who was a very talented artist and gave up a promising career when she married), in a style very much inspired by the Arts & Crafts movement. Thanks to the Swedish Academy, you can enjoy his book "Ett Hem" (= a home) on their website. Perhaps not so much the introductory text, but the paintings that start on page ten (X). This was the first of the books that established the Larsson home as one to be admired and copied. You can also read "De Mina", "Larssons", and "Åt solsidan" (= on the sunny side). These books make even me want to re-paint my furniture in warm red shades!

If Larsson´s style of painting sometimes reminds you of comic books it´s no wonder - some are more or less coloured drawings with very bold linework. These images in particular are perennially popular in the form of postcards, wallhangings (prints or embroidery), trays, cups, plates - anything! In the 70´s those little girl´s dresses and ladies aprons were so popular; I remember them on my cousins. Also, Rörstrand porcelain factory has a service called "Sundborn", its design inspired by the Larsson home. (They also do Ostindia, a classic Swedish pattern that I grew up with and still use.)

This is very much how the Swedes see themselves. Larsson´s images define a typically Swedish aesthetic that probably includes you whether you grew up in a suburb of Stockholm or in a red house with white trimmings in the country.

Funnily enough, one of Karin Larsson´s paintings from her time at artschool pokes a nice big hole in the idea of a blond, blue-eyed and homogenous and (therefore, if you listen to the Sweden Democrats) happy past. This is "The negro Pettersson", a very popular model who also worked at the Stockholm harbour, was married twice to Swedish women and raised several children with them. He lived his life in Stockholm in the 19th century, without as many raised eyebrows as one might have thought, although I think he would have been a fairly exotic character at the time. I have seen several paintings of him, and Karin Larsson´s is one of the very best. It was featured not long ago on the "Antiques Roadshow" (on Swedish television).

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