SOREN EMIL CARLSEN
oil on canvas, 24 x 20 inches,
signed lower left "Emil Carlsen," signed, titled, inscribed
and dated on the reverse "London 98"
The estate of Ketil Carlsen, the artist's nephew; John Carlsen,
a grand-nephew of the artist, 1945; by descent in the family.
Born in Denmark, Emil Carlsen immigrated to the United States in 1872. After stints in Chicago, Boston, Paris, and San Francisco, he settled in New York in 1891. Carlsen initially painted still lifes of game, developed floral subjects while in Paris in the mid-1880s, and experimented with a variety of subjects and styles in the 1890s, before turning to contemplative images of old pots and jugs after 1900. In the second half of his long and varied career, he also painted landscapes and seascapes, though he remained primarily identified with still life and was considered the preeminent American still-life painter of his time.
The verso inscription on Chrysanthemums attests to Carlsen’s presence in London in 1898, a fact not previously recorded by art historians. In 1899 a period source placed him there, “painting a picture for the Paris Exposition,” the huge world’s fair of 1900. He had returned to New York by September 1900.1 During this English sojourn, Carlsen appears to have continued his experimentation with aspects of the Impressionist style, which was gaining acceptance in the United States during the 1890s.
With its strong color and active brushwork, Chrysanthemums is one of Carlsen’s boldest forays into Impressionism. The chrysanthemum was the ideal subject for such an endeavor: Carlsen articulated the narrow petals of the big, fluffy blooms with long, flickering brushstrokes, and he treated the vase and background in broad patches of color. He evoked the original Greek meaning of the flower’s name, “golden flower,” with glowing yellow, orange, and creamy white blooms bathed in a yellow-green haze. Moving away from the complex spatial arrangements of his earlier still lifes, in works like Chrysanthemums of the mid-to-late 1890s Carlsen presented objects in shallow depth with a new structural clarity that presaged the subdued formal sophistication of his work after 1900.
Carlsen’s work can be found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, New Hampshire; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.; Dallas Museum of Art, Texas; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.