May 31, 2012

The Art of Emil Carlsen

Soren Emil Carlsen (1853 – 1932) was a Danish born American Impressionist. He embodied the “starving artist” stereotype and was unfortunately not recognized for his talent as a painter until much later on his career. Influenced by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Carlsen was famous for painting still life subjects and eventually became known as “The American Chardin”. Carlsen also served as a well respected art teacher in Chicago, San Francisco and New York for over 40 years.

(Carlsen, Emil. Iron Kettle and Clams. c. 1926. oil on canvas, mounted on board. Private collection.)

Carlsen was from an artistic family and his family taught him how to paint. As a young adult he studied architecture at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen for four years. After graduation, he got a job working in Chicago as an architectural draftsman but, he soon decided that he did not like the sedentary lifestyle, so he decided to become an artist. He then studied with the Danish marine artist Lauritz Holst and became the first teacher of drawing and painting at the Chicago Academy of Design.

(Carlsen, Emil. Teapot and Onion. oil on canvas. Private collection.)

Thirsty for more formal artistic training, Carlsen traveled to Paris where he first set eyes on the work of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin from the Rococo period in 1875. He then moved to New York and began to paint still life, similar to the work of Chardin but, he struggled to sell his work, so he taught classes at the Art Students League as well.

(Carlsen, Emil. The Fan. oil on canvas. Private collection.)

Carlsen was accepted into an exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1883, where he finally was recognized for his talents. He was then offered a position as the director of the San Francisco Art Association’s School, so he moved to California in 1886. In 1904, he married and moved to a quiet town in Connecticut and painted until his death.

(Carlsen, Emil. The Wooded Interior. oil on panel. Private collection.)

Carlsen’s spacious compositions are timeless, elegant and display his excellent draughtsmanship. His soft flawless brushwork combined with the luminous qualities of paint create a tranquil atmospheric effect. His painting technique was meticulous and labor intensive as he combined the effect of glazing (building up layers of thin paint) with scraping, painting and then scraping again to build up a final impasto as the finale.

(Carlsen, Emil. Still Life with Oriental Works of Art. c. 1901. oil on board. Private collection.)

Carlsen was at first only recognized for his still life paintings but, later on he was eventually recognized for his landscape and his marine paintings as well. There are very few books written about Carlsen, he is the unsung master whose paintings are now today scattered into the hands of many private collectors but, his work is very much appreciated here!

Enjoy! :)