Emil Carlsen

American, 1853 - 1932
“…Still life painting must be of a well understood simplicity, solid, strong, vital, unnecessary details neglected, salient points embellished, made the most of, every touch full of meaning and for the love of beauty.” --- Emil Carlsen, 1908

The atmospheric quality and harmonious tones of Soren Emil Carlsen’s still lifes helped his carefully arranged objects and flowers merge flawlessly with their surroundings, thus supporting the opinion of curator and scholar Arthur Edwin Bye that he “has an inward eye, a faculty for discerning all that anyone else ever saw, but more – a rhythm and music and poetry, a serenity and dignity and sublimity which makes his still-life groupings classic.”1 Born in Denmark and trained in architecture at the Royal Danish Academy, Carlsen immigrated to the United States in 1872 and first settled in Chicago. There he found a position as an architect’s assistant and later worked under Danish painter Lauritz Bernhard Holst before taking over his studio when the master returned to Denmark. A year later, Carlsen traveled back to Europe to continue his education, studying in Paris for six months until a lack of funds drove him back to the States. He stayed briefly in New York before moving to Boston in 1875, where he remained for the next eight years. While the first few years in this new city were prosperous, he soon found it necessary to take up engraving and commercial design work to make ends meet but did very well in the field, saving enough money to pursue his painting again. He exhibited landscapes and seascapes at the Boston Art Club in the 1880s, and also began exploring the genre of still life, listing himself in the Boston directory as a still life specialist. His floral canvases soon appeared at additional venues, including the Pennsylvania Academy, while those featuring common household goods, cooking implements, clay pots and brass tea kettles, as well as dead game and fish were inspired by a second stay in Paris in 1884, where he encountered the work of 18th century French still life master Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779). Chardin’s depictions of everyday items profoundly influenced the direction of Carlsen’s painting and he began incorporating similar objects into his compositions, paying heed to the play of light on a range of textures and surfaces, while continuing to render the delicate blossoms that were eagerly sought by collectors and celebrated by critics and scholars. Roses and Vase is an excellent example of his floral work. The round forms and complementary red and green tones of the chosen objects, set against a muted backdrop, bring a sense of balance to the composition.

Carlsen moved to San Francisco in 1887, staying on the West Coast for the next four years, but longed for life back east and returned to New York in 1891. While his name became synonymous with still life, he continued painting marine and landscape subjects as well, submitting these for exhibition at an array of venues, including the National Academy, which made him a full Academician in 1906. A retrospective of his work was held at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC in 1923, and during his lifetime, several prominent museums acquired paintings for their permanent collections, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Blackfish and Clams, 1904), the Pennsylvania Academy (Summer Clouds, 1913) and the Worcester Art Museum (Still Life, 1914). This is merely a sampling of the dozens of national museums that count Carlsen’s work among their holdings.
1853: Born in Copenhagen, Denmark; 1870s: Studied architecture at the Danish Royal Academy; 1872: Immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Chicago and worked briefly as an architectural draftsman before he turned to painting and studied with Danish painter Laurits Holst; 1875: Traveled to Paris and Copenhagen to study the Old Masters and first encountered the work of the great still-life painter Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, who would remain a lifelong influence; 1876: Moved to New York City, and then to Boston; 1884-86: Returned to Paris to study; 1891-1918: Returned permanently to New York, where he taught at the National Academy of Design and also at PAFA in Philadelphia; 1891-1901: Formative period of development for Carlsen’s approach to still-life; 1911: Began association with William MacBeth and became an important member of Macbeth Galleries’ stable of artists; 1932: Died in New York.
Soren Emil Carlsen was born in Copenhagen on October 19, 1853. He studied architecture at the Danish Royal Academy between 1868 and 1872. He emigrated to America in 1872, settled in Chicago, and found work as an assistant to a local architect. For a time he also worked for a fellow Dane, the painter Lauritis Bernhard Holst (1848-1934). When Holst returned to Denmark in 1874, he turned his studio over to Carlsen, who had by this time decided to become a full-time painter.

Upon the recommendation of the Chicago sculptor Leonard Wells Volk (1828-1895), Carlsen was appointed the first instructor at the newly formed school of the Art Institute. In 1875 Carlsen returned briefly to Denmark and then went to Paris, where he stayed for six months. While there, he carefully studied the works of the eighteenth-century painter Jean Simeon Chardin (1699-1779).

Returning to New York in 1875, the artist set up his own studio, but he had to supplement his meager income from painting by working as an engraver and designer. In 1879 financial difficulties forced him to hold an auction of thirty of his works, but the proceeds did not even cover the sale's expenses.

In the early 1880s Carlsen began to develop a reputation as a still-life painter. Commissioned by a dealer to paint saleable flower pieces, he returned to Paris in 1884, where he remained for two years, painting numerous brightly-colored pictures. Eventually, he grew tired of this repetitious work and broke the contract he had made with the dealer. Carlsen went back to New York and opened a studio on West 57th Street. He worked there until 1887, when he began a two-year tenure as director of the San Francisco Art Association's school. He resigned this post in 1889 but remained in San Francisco until 1891.

Carlsen again settled in New York in 1891 and began teaching at the National Academy of Design, where he would continue as an instructor until 1918. He was married in 1896 and numbered among his friends in New York William Merritt Chase, J. Alden Weir, and Childe Hassam.

Biography courtesy of Roughton Galleries, www.antiquesandfineart.com/roughton
Emil Carlsen was born in 1853. His extensive art training was all European, starting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Copenhagen, the Danish Royal Academy and Academie Julian from 1884-86. Carlsen immigrated to the U.S. in 1872 and worked as an architectural assistant before teaching at the Chicago Institute of Art. In 1875, he returned to Paris for 6 months of study, and then settled in California for four years. There he became the Director of the San Francisco Art Association's California School of Design. Carlsen moved back to New York City permanently in 1891 to teach at the National Academy of Design. Carlsen's early career was marked by still lifes of yellow roses and other bright flowers. However, he gained critical recognition for rich, sensuous paintings of dead game and kitchen still lifes that made him an important figure in the Chardin revival of the 19th century. With an emphasis on subtle light and form, visual truths such as wet scales or gleaming copper became completely believable. Carlsen is recognized for his traditional representation with an Impressionistic approach to color and light.

Biography courtesy of The Caldwell Gallery, www.antiquesandfineart.com/caldwell
Emil Carlsen was one of the twentieth century's most renowned still life painters, whose work combined sensuous realism with impressionistic technique. Carlsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he trained as an architect before emigrating to the United States in 1872. Largely self-taught as a painter, he drew inspiration from the old masters and the French Impressionists, spending time in Paris to fully absorb their work. His still lifes bear the humble subject matter and elegant execution of Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, modernized through an impressionistic use of color and light. In addition to still life, Carlsen painted landscapes whose architectural compositions derived from his training as a draftsman. Throughout his oeuvre, Carlsen's work displays a marked interest in the cadence of form, mass, and line built from an intensive technique of painting and scraping. Such lyrical renderings of objects, landscapes, and seascapes made him one of the most successful artists of his time. Carlsen was renowned as an art instructor as well as artist. He taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and served as the Director of the California School of Design. His paintings won critical acclaim, earning medals and prizes from the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Society of American Artists, the Salmagundi Club, the Carnegie Institute, and the National Arts Club, as well as the St. Louis Expo of 1904, the Buenos Aires Expo of 1910, and the San Francisco Pan-Pacific Expo of 1915. Today, his work is featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Diego Museum of Art.

Biography courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art LLC, www.antiquesandfineart.com/questroyal
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