This is a strange post to write as I’m writing about an artist I don’t actually know that much about but I adore his work. This artist’s name is Carl Larsson, who I fell in love with in Sweden. God, I love Sweden, don’t get me started. Anyway, when we arrived in Stockholm (lovely, lovely Stockholm) we were two hours too early to get into our hotel room, so we dumped our cases and wandered over to the National Museum. We walked around their splendid exhibition ‘Lust and Vice’, so utterly filthy that I had to buy the catalogue, and ended up in a room filled with nineteenth century art. There on the wall was this…
|Prinsessan och Vallpojken (A Swedish Fairy Tale) (1897) Carl Larsson|
My first thought was ‘Grace will love this!’ and I think I stood there for a few minutes thinking ‘Wow, look the middle bit is gold! That is mad! And look at the troll’s head!’ I bought the postcard and it is stuck to the wall next to my desk at work where I can look at it and think ‘The middle bit is gold! Crazy!’ I had heard of Carl Larsson, and knew his illustrations, but thought of him strictly in terms of the clear watercolour light of his interiors and delicate figures. I was surprised that this heavy, medieval picture was his, it reminded me of Thomas Cooper Gotch’s children, most notably Alleluia.
|Alleluia (1896) Thomas Cooper Gotch|
|Study for Alleluia|
The richly decorated dresses of the girls in Alleluia and the Princess seem almost like a woman wearing jewellery, adding richness to a picture. The Princess has a fair amount of gold about her, from her tiny crown, to her belt and necklace, but also her hair and the background echo the colour, picked up again in the horn slung round the shoulder of the shepherd boy. The central relief panel slaps you round the face with it being so very GOLD that it can only be written in capitals.
I love Larsson’s Prinsessan och Vallpojken (The Swedish Fairytale) perversely because I do not know what has happened in the picture. As far as I can see, there is a shepherd boy with a sword in one panel and a young princess sassily displaying a severed troll head in the other panel with a golden relief panel showing a king and either the queen or the princess who he appears to be comforting.
|Handy with a sword...|
|Relief panel in detail|
Seeing that the princess seems to be wearing an ‘Am I bothered?’ look in the left hand panel, I’m not convinced that the female figure in the middle is her, but it might be a ‘before and after’ image, so before the troll was dead she was worried that either she would be eaten or married to it, but as the young shepherd boy seems to have killed the ugly monster, she is striking a pose. I did wonder at the purpose of the gold relief when I first saw it, as it jumps out at you in a most disconcerting way. The frame seemed quite restrained and the diptych/triptych images are presented side by side in a quite neutral background, but it could be that the sudden burst of gold acts in the same way as the heavy golden inscribed frames that the Pre-Raphaelites sometimes incorporated, but instead of carrying the gold around the outside of the image, it bursts forth, like the alien from John Hurt, from the middle, like the narrative straining to be released from the world of fiction into reality.
The figure of the princess, with her medieval outfit reminds me of some Waterhouse figures, for example Marianna in the South or Tristram and Isolde, only blonde. I found it interesting that during this period, it seems that everyone’s fairytales seemed to inhabit a strange, rich medieval period, inhabited by scary monsters. Talking of which, it was while finding the image of Gotch’s Alleluia chorus, I came across this….
|Innocence (1904) Thomas Cooper Gotch|
Well, I checked about three times that this was by Gotch, struck by the same quandary that had made me wonder if The Swedish Fairytale was by Carl Larsson. It seemed totally unlike the style of his other works, but perversely reminded me of the delicate watercolours of Larsson’s interiors. But with a whooping great dragon in it. The purity of the light and the clarity of the colours brought to mind much of what we had seen in Sweden, and I wish to propose a new art movement: Scandi-Newlyn or Swede-lyn, as I think the Newlyn School and the work of Carl Larsson share many similar and beautiful features and I think it’s about time they were brought together. Huzzah for Swede-lyn!