• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Karin Bergöö Larsson: Mother, muse and artist

The Local · 9 Dec 2008, 17:52

Published: 09 Dec 2008 17:52 GMT+01:00

Today the phrase “Swedish style” is universally recognized and attributed to Karin Bergöö Larsson, the unassuming designer wife of Carl Larsson, one of Sweden’s most famous and beloved artists. The term conjures up spare, unfinished, and unadorned birch furniture, candles, bright cheerful colours, and a use of white that is both elegant and relaxed.

Swedish style is seen in the flowing gauze of curtains fluttering in the summer breeze, in bare, uncovered pine floors, blue and white striped upholstery on sofas and side chairs. Swedish style is also housefuls of children romping through the rooms—no overheated, overstuffed parlours here!

Swedish style today also consists of beautifully embroidered fabrics—like the smocking on the tunics of little yellow-haired schoolgirls—and beautiful glass products from Kosta Boda or Orrefors, shimmering on needle-worked tablecloths. Yet in the early 1900s, Sweden (and the rest of Europe, for that matter) had seen nothing like this type of happy, light-filled style.

At that time, front rooms were Victorian and decorously stuffy. Unused front rooms, darkly upholstered and draped, were verboten for children and other living things; they were used only for guests or funerals. At the home of Carl and Karin Larsson, however, called Lilla Hyttnäs, all the rooms of the cottage were livable and used by all members of the household—even the family dog.

The rooms of their lovely home had come to the attention of Swedes and Germans through various publications of Carl Larsson’s watercolours of the various rooms and surroundings of his home in Sundborn. At the time, Carl was viewed as a muralist, producing works for public buildings. Yet it was his watercolours depicting his charming and idyllic cottage that brought him the most acclaim. And unbeknownst to most, his wife Karin, an uncelebrated textile artist, was the creator of those beautiful interior designs.

Today, Karin is recognized as not only Carl’s muse and the mother of his seven children, but as an innovative artist. Her works, along with other contemporary decorative artists, are currently on display at Gothenburg’s Röhsska Museum of Fashion, Design and Decorative Arts, Sweden’s only museum of applied art.

The new Larsson exhibition, “Sundborn Goes Extreme Again”, runs from November 26th, 2008 until April 5th, 2009, and presents unconventional and somewhat eccentric interior designs created by Karin, that influence not only interior designers but IKEA, Sweden’s global furnishings department store.

In the late nineteenth century, Karin refused to accept the conventions of the day and created a uniquely individual environment that is highly popular today. This show illustrates issues of cultural heritage, gender roles, values in contemporary Swedish design and includes contemporary artists, such as the Front design quartet, glass artist Åsa Jungnelius, designer Alexander Lervik, and artist duo Peter Johansson and Barbro Westling, as well as some of the furniture and objects that are on loan from Karin’s, for which Karin designed not only wall hangings, tablecloths, curtains, bed coverings, but furniture as well.

In 1997, nearly 70 years after her death, Karin stepped out of the large shadow cast by the self-proclaimed neurotic and demanding husband and became an icon in her own right. That year in London, IKEA mounted a display at the Victoria and Albert Museum highlighting Karin’s work as never before in an exhibition titled “Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style.” That exhibition showcased Karin as one whose artistry was based on the native crafts and folklore of Dalarna, the province where she lived and worked.

Today Karin is considered by many designers and scholars, both in Sweden and the United States, as a leader in design. The interiors she designed, on display in their home and now at the Röhsska, capture in a personal way the eighteenth-century countrified Gustavian atmosphere, which Karin updated in the nineteenth century, evolving an ambiance that is the epitome of Swedish design, most captured in Karin’s so-called Swedish room.

In her “front room,” Karin placed chairs along walls and constructed a raised dais, creating a room within a room; she removed curtains, and let the entire family spend a great deal of time in the parlour, as can be seen in paintings by Carl in which a chess set and checkerboard are left out, playing cards are on a table, and knitting projects rest on a chair. The little sofa by the window was a place for a snooze—the part of the room that Carl depicted in a watercolour, Lathörnet (Lazy Nook), a room he called his “ temple of idleness."

Story continues below…

And so now in Gothenburg, another exhibition will showcase Karin, as is befitting, since 2009 is her “Jubilee Year”, the 150th anniversary of her birth. Her clean and iconic designs can now be seen everywhere from IKEA to Target, before making their way into many homes across the United States. These objects came from humble beginnings, brought about by a little-known yet vastly influential Swedish textile artist who is finally getting her due.

Marge Thorell is a Philadelphia-based writer who is currently writing a book about the "Mother of Modern Swedish Design"

The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Today's headlines
Fears new funding rules could hobble Swedish startups
Elin Olsson funded the development of her innovative smoke detector through crowdfunding. Photo: Anders Andersson/TT

Crowdfunding is a risky business, but could Swedish plans to regulate it make it too hard for small companies to get investment?

Ikea recalls chocolate over nut allergy fears
Ikea has recalled several chocolate bars. Photo: Cornelius Poppe/NTB Scanpix/TT

Don't eat these bars if you are allergic to nuts or almonds.

Did this Swedish cop just make the arrest of the year?
Mikaela Kellner in action. Photo: Private

Imagine wrestling a criminal to the ground – while wearing a bikini.

Sweden's champion prawn peeler hauls in a big catch
Prawn peelers in action. Photo: Bengt Johansson

The Olympics are getting closer, but Sweden already has a new champion in an hotly contested "sport": prawn peeling.

Baby dies after midwife denies woman's request for c-section
Uppsala University Hospital. Photo: Fredrik Persson/TT

The midwife insisted on six attempts at vaginal birth before an emergency caesarean section was carried out.

Don't let them bite! Bedbugs proliferate in Swedish hotels
Swedish bedbug fighter Jonny Ström does his thing in 2014. Library photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The number of bedbugs in Swedish hotels has doubled in recent years, according to figures from pest control firm Anticimex.

Swedish state agencies 'outsource jobs to spies'
The Stockholm headquarters of the Swedish Security Service, Säpo. File photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Foreign countries are trying to infiltrate the Swedish state by winning government contracts, it has been claimed.

What's on in Sweden
The most stunning Swedish festival spots this week
The Norberg Festival at an old ore mine. Photo: Peo Bengtsson

How about a party on an island, in an old quarry or a former mining camp? That's all on offer in Sweden this week.

Swedish police backtrack on 'gunfight' claims
The scene of the shooting on June 22nd. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Police have retracted a claim that a suspected gunman had fired shots at a patrol unit before officers shot him dead.

Crayfish poachers send Swedes' blood boiling
Has anyone seen this crayfish? Photo: Hasse Holmberg/TT

Oh no, not just before crayfish season!

Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
National
Anyone for a bite of 340-year-old shipwrecked stinky cheese?
Gallery
People-watching: July 27th
Politics
Why Sweden's high taxes are not as high as you think
Blog updates

26 July

A summer of change; a summer of beauty (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"You would have had to try hard to miss the political upheavals in the UK after…" READ »

 

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
National
What's haggis in a condom doing on Swedish children's TV?
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Meet the northern Swede who is the world's best mosquito killer
National
Sweden's Hollywood star Alicia Vikander puts her pen in the bottle
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd-24th
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
The Local Voices
The Jewish Syrian who dreams of rebuilding his country
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
Politics
What Sweden's home secretary thinks of Britain's new PM
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,400
jobs available