John Fabian Carlson

American, 1874 - 1945
While he proclaimed that art could not be taught, but only learned through practice, John F. Carlson, nonetheless, was one of the most important teachers of landscape painting in the early decades of the twentieth century. He was born in a tiny town on the eastern coast of Sweden and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1884. In 1902, he found his way to the Art Students League in New York, where he studied painting with Frank V. DuMond and Birge Harrison. The following year, Harrison joined the teaching staff at Byrdcliffe, a newly-founded arts and crafts community in Woodstock, New York, and Carlson followed.

The hills, pastures and woods of Woodstock provided ideal subject matter for them both, and at Carlson’s urging the Art Students League established a summer school in Woodstock, where he taught from 1906 to 1918. In 1920, Carlson co-founded the Broadmoor Art Academy in Colorado; two years later he returned to Woodstock to establish his own school, the John F. Carlson School of Landscape Painting. In addition to directly teaching hundreds of students, Carlson reached countless more with his book, Elementary Principles of Landscape Painting, which was published in 1928. Carlson’s teaching philosophy was simple: “Study directly from nature,” he wrote. “Study to feel, and know something of her visible functionings. Nature, to the thoughtful, will ever remain a vast and delightful storehouse, and the love that we bestow upon her is not to be accounted as lost. She will remain forever the fountain of ‘inspiration material.’”1

Due to Carlson’s busy teaching schedule, his own painting time was generally relegated to the late fall and winter, and thus he became known for his tonalist snow scenes. Painted in muted blues and greens, his silent forests, still rivers and rolling pastureland scenes captured the lyrical qualities of the season. A 1917 article in The Fine Arts Journal called him “a Bouguereau of winter woods, an idealist of pure beauty with a classic appreciation of form, a realist as to detail, a poet as to color and, above all, a master of tone.”2 In the artist’s December Woods, Woodstock, New York, the towering trees stand sentinel over the quiet forest, their dark masses broken up by the soft blue-tinged snow and scattered red and yellow leaves still clinging to the branches.

Carlson exhibited widely during his lifetime and won numerous prizes for his paintings from the Salmagundi Club in New York, the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, and the National Academy of Design. Additionally, he participated in annual shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, and was a member of several national arts organizations. His work was often commended for its delicate tones and lyrical qualities: “Mr. Carlson’s technical proficiency is very great, and his art arouses only a calm emotion in the presence of the natural world…he satisfies the taste and lures the attention toward the breadth of view and intellectual serenity which belongs to art of a high order.”3 Vose Galleries has held four exhibitions of the artist’s work, and today his landscapes can be found in several museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Sheldon Museum of Art in Omaha, Nebraska, and the Springville Museum of Art in Utah, among others.
John Fabian Carlson
Born Sweden, 1874
Died New York City, 1945

As a young child in Sweden, John F. Carlson was introduced to art by an uncle who decorated carriages with landscapes. At the age of twelve, Carlson moved with his family to the United States and settled in Buffalo, New York.

Carlson's early interest in art grew and he apprenticed with a lithographer and received guidance from an amateur artist named Frederick Mayor. He later worked as a Lithographer at Cosack & Company to help support his family. His formal training began at the Albright School of Art (Albright Art Gallery) where he studied under Lucius Hitchcock. In 1902, Carlson earned a scholarship to the Art Students League in New York where he was a pupil of Frank Vincent DuMond.

Following his two years of study at the Art Student's League, Carlson went to Woodstock, New York, with a scholarship to study at Byrdcliffe, a fledgling art colony (later known as the Woodstock Artists Association). He received instruction from Birge Harrison, a Tonalist, who became both a mentor and a friend to the young artist. In 1906, Carlson, who was then a member of the Art Students League's Board of Control, was instrumental in the decision to move the League's summer school from Connecticut to Woodstock. Birge Harrison was named director of the new school of landscape at Woodstock and he hired Carlson as his assistant. Carlson became the school's director following Harrison's retirement in 1911, hiring Frank Swift Chase as his assistant. By that time, there were over one hundred students studying at the school. Enrollment was at its greatest under Carlson's directorship which lasted until his resignation in 1918.

In June of 1920, Carlson and his family moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Carlson, who by that time had earned national recognition as a landscape painter, was appointed director of the newly established Broadmoor Academy. The artist was thrilled with his new surroundings and stated "Nowhere outside of Italy can one see such combinations of color as the afternoon wanes." Carlson spent two summers teaching landscape painting at the Broadmoor Academy.

In 1922, Carlson returned to Woodstock where he established the John F. Carlson School of Landscape Painting. Three years later, the artist was elected a full member of the National Academy of Design. In 1928, Carlson published an instructional book titled Elementary Principles of Landscape Paintings. The book was reprinted as Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting in 1953, 1958, and 1970.

Exhibited: Art Institute of Chicago, 1905-1929; National Academy of Design, 1907-1944 (Carnegie prize, 1918; Ranger Fund prize, 1923; Altman prize, 1936); Glaenzer Gallery, New York City, 1908 (solo); Katz Gallery, New York City, 1909, 1912 (solos); Corcoran Gallery, 1910-1943; Swedish-American Exhibition, Swedish Club, Chicago, 1911 (first prize), 1913; Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1911-1931; Salmagundi Club, New York, 1912 (first Isidor prize and Vezi prize for watercolor), 1923 (Shaw watercolor prize), 1925 (prizes); Memorial Art Gallery, New York City, 1913; Washington Society of Artists, 1913 (silver medal); Copley Gallery, Boston, 1913, 1915; Macbeth Gallery, New York City, 1913-1940's; Pan-Pacific Exposition, 1915 (silver medal); St. Louis Art Museum, 1917; St. Louis Museum of Art, 1917, 1943; Swedish National Museum, Stockholm, 1920; "Scandinavian-American Artists" exhibition, Brooklyn Museum, 1926, 1928, 1932; Anderson Gallery, Chicago, 1927 (solo); Brooks Memorial Gallery, Memphis, 1941 (solo); American Watercolor Society; Colorado Springs Art Gallery; Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts; Dayton Art Institute, Ohio; Milch Gallery, New York City; Mohr Gallery, Toledo, Ohio; Montclair Art Museum; New York Watercolor Club; National Arts Club; Paradox Gallery, Woodstock, New York; Plainfield Art Association, New Jersey; Sartor Gallery, Dallas; Washington Watercolor Club; Vassar College Art Gallery; Vose Gallery, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1987 (solos); Babcock Gallery, New York City, 1990's (two solos).

Works held: Art Institute of Chicago; Brooks Memorial Gallery, Memphis, Tennessee; Butler Art Institute; Carnegie institute; Corcoran Gallery of Art; Dallas Public Library; Fort Worth Art Association; Lincoln Art Association Nebraska; Metropolitan Museum of Art; National Academy of Design; Oberlin College; Randolph-Macon Women's College, Lynchburg, Virginia; Toledo Museum of Art; Woodstock Art Association.

Further Reading: Artists of the American West: A Biographical Dictionary, Vol. 3, Doris Ostrander Dawdy, Swallow Press, Chicago, 1980. 3 Vols.; The Founders of the Woodstock Artists Association Exhibition Catalog, Carol B. Brener, ed., Woodstock Artists Association, Woodstock , New York, 2000.; John F. Carlson and Artists of the Broadmoor Academy, David Cook Fine Art, Denver, Colorado, 1999.; Pikes Peak Vision: The Broadmoor Art Academy, 1919-1945, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1989.; A Show of Color: 100 Years of Painting in the Pike's Peak Region, Robert L. Shalkop, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1971.; Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in America, Vol. 1. Peter Hastings Falk, Georgia Kuchen and Veronica Roessler, eds.,Sound View Press, Madison, Connecticut, 1999. 3 Vols.; Woodstock's Art Heritage: the Permanent Collection of the Woodstock Artists Association, historical survey by Tom Wolf; published for the Woodstock Artist's Association by Overlook Press, Woodstock, New York, 1987.

Biography courtesy of David Cook Galleries, www.antiquesandfineart.com/davidcook
John Fabian Carlson discovered the snow-laden regions of American landscape that would later define his life's work when his family emigrated from Sweden to Buffalo, NY in 1883. It was here that Carlson embarked on his artistic career, joining a lithography firm as an apprentice and exploring the wintry environment of upstate New York. In 1902, Carlson left Buffalo to pursue a scholarship at the Art Student's League of New York where he met his teacher and lifelong mentor, Birge Harrison. Following his time at the Art Students' League, Carlson relocated to Woodstock, NY to further explore the Kaaterskill Mountains and to join one of many artists' colonies flourishing throughout America at the time. Carlson reunited with his mentor, Harrison, when he was enlisted as a teacher for the Art Student's League's summer school in Woodstock in 1906. Eventually, the artist was promoted to director of the summer school when Harrison retired in 1911. Carlson held the post of director at the Woodstock summer school until 1918, when he moved to Colorado Springs to co-direct the Broadmore Academy of Art with fellow artist Robert Reid. Ever focused on the representation of landscape, Carlson returned to Woodstock to open the John Fabian Carlson School of Landscape Painting where he taught until his death in 1945.

In addition to his numerous teaching positions, Carlson was awarded the status of Associate and later, Academician, of the National Academy of Design. The artist also described his en plein air method and ability to synthesize nature with a personal sense of design and color in his celebrated publication, Guide to Landscape Painting. Carlson's works can currently be viewed in collections across the country included the San Diego Museum of Art, CA, the Georgia Museum of Art, GA and the Phillips Collection and Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

Selected Bibliography:
Cuba, Stanely. John F. Carlson and Artists of the Broadmoor Academy.Denver, CO: David Cook Fine Art, 1999.
Falk, Peter Hastings, ed.. Who Was Who in American Art 1564-1975: 400 Years of Artists in America. Madison, CT: Sound View Press, 1999.
John F. Carlson, N.A., 1874-1945, From May 3, 1878. Boston, MA: Vose Galleries of Boston, Inc., 1978.
Shipp, Steve. American Art Colonies, 1850-1930, A Historical Guide to America's Original Art Colonies and Their Artists. Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1996

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