Lot 35
  • 35

Carl Larsson

400,000 - 600,000 GBP
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  • Carl Larsson
  • Holiday Reading
  • signed with initials and dated 1916 lower right
  • watercolour and gouache over pencil on paper laid on canvas
  • 69.5 by 99.5cm., 27¼ by 39¼in.


Fritzes Konsthandel, Stockholm (purchased from the artist in 1916)
Harald & Ellen Stålberg, Eskilstuna (acquired circa 1925; Stålberg was a businessman and CEO of the Swedish family-run lockmakers company Låsbolaget from 1931)
Dr Åke Stålberg (son of the above, acquired in 1967)
Ulla Stålberg-Olmert (daughter of the above, acquired in 1980)
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1984


Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall, Carl Larsson - 100 år minnesutställning på Liljevalchs Konsthall, 1953, no. 362 (as Ferieläsning)


Ulwa Neergaard, Carl Larsson: signerat med pensel och penna, Stockholm, 1999, p. 161, no. 1659, catalogued (as Ferieläsning / Karin och Esbjörn. Söndag)


The following condition report has been prepared by Jane McAusland ACR FIIC, Conservator and Restorer of Art on Paper, Nether Hall Barn, Suffolk IP14 4PP: Support The artist has used a large sheet of white wove type paper, which is fully laid down onto canvas on a stretcher. The sheet is good, strong and unstained, the only damage being a complex group of secured tears towards the centre right edge running from the boy’s elbow into the crease below his jacket (approximately 12 cm long). This damage is not visually disturbing. The edges have very slight staining. Medium The watercolour and gouache pigments are extremely fresh, bright. On close inspection some of the white gouache areas show small cracks and a few losses. Just below the top edge, towards the right, there is a horizontal line where the pigment has been rubbed by a mount or frame. Note: This work was viewed outside studio conditions
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Beautifully luminous and fresh, verdant and of large format, Holiday Reading is a prime depiction of family life at the Larssons' country home, Lilla Hyttnäs in Sundborn. Karin, the artist's wife and the sitter who appears most often in his idyllic domestic scenes, sits alongside their youngest son Esbjörn as they relax together on a sunny Sunday afternoon, each engrossed in reading their own book. Next to them the table has been set for tea, with some of Karin's sewing kit also left informally to the side, a reference to the textiles which formed her own distinctive contribution to the Larssons' pioneering folk art aesthetic. For the present work Larsson worked on a large scale, virtually the largest in his watercolour œuvre.

The scene is set on the more private, south-eastern side of the Larssons' home, probably observed from a vantage point within the home looking out through a window. The enclosed, protective composition reinforces the contemplative mood of the scene, conveying the impression of the artist's family being cocooned in a garden room or hortus conclusus, surrounded by verdure and the walls of the house, and perhaps even unaware that they are being painted. 

Framing the scene to the left is the wall of Carl’s studio. Although initially a separate building, the Larssons built rooms connecting it to the house in 1901. These were the last of the major structural transformations that the Larssons made to Lilla Hyttnäs, coinciding with their decision to settle there permanently the year after Esbjörn's birth. The studio wall is echoed by the distant footbridge over the inlet where the Larssons kept their rowing boat, situated at the composition's vanishing point amidst luxurious vegetation. The same element, from a different view, appears most prominently in Larsson's The Bridge of 1912. Beyond lies the Sundbornsån river.

Bordering the scene to the right is the sinuous form of a horse-chestnut tree trunk, its flatness of form and simplification of line and contour suggesting the strong influence of Japanese woodcuts on Larsson's aesthetic. The tree's overhanging crown provides a canopy over much of the scene, taking the artist's family in its spreading embrace. The foliage hanging down into the composition in the upper-left of the composition almost stands independent as a beautifully curvaceous art nouveau study, while the dappled shade cast over the scene forms a decorative pattern touching on abstraction.

In his later years Larsson painted some of the richest, largest, and most vibrant scenes of family life at Lilla Hyttnäs of his career, belying  to some extent his own turbulent emotions. During the same time Larsson fought a bitter campaign to have the art authorities accept his controversial mural Midvinterblot (Midwinter Sacrifice), with which the artist sought to complete his decorative scheme at the Stockholm Nationalmuseum. Despite the support of friends, notably fellow painter Anders Zorn, Larsson finally admitted defeat in the face of widespread opposition in 1916, the same year as painting the present work, and Midvinterblot did not find its permanent place on the walls of the Nationalmuseum until 1997. 

Compared with the smaller watercolour Under the Chestnut Tree, depicting the same corner of the garden in spring 1912 (fig. 1), Holiday Reading is vibrantly exuberant rather than merely playful, at once more open and more protective of the artist's family. While embattled defending his public reputation in Stockholm, the present work stands as a moving evocation of family life at Lilla Hyttnäs which Larsson so cherished.