Emil Carlsen was one of the twentieth century’s most renowned still life painters, whose work combined sensuous realism with impressionistic technique. Carlsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he trained as an architect before emigrating to the United States in 1872. Largely self-taught as a painter, he drew inspiration from the old masters and the French Impressionists, spending time in Paris to fully absorb their work. His still lifes bear the humble subject matter and elegant execution of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, modernized through an impressionistic use of color and light.
In addition to still life, Carlsen painted landscapes whose architectural compositions derived from his training as a draftsman. Throughout his oeuvre, Carlsen’s work displays a marked interest in the cadence of form, mass, and line built from an intensive technique of painting and scraping. Such lyrical renderings of objects, landscapes, and seascapes made him one of the most successful artists of his time.
Carlsen was renowned as an art instructor as well as artist. He taught at the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and served as the Director of the California School of Design. His paintings won critical acclaim, earning medals and prizes from the National Academy of Design, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Society of American Artists, the Salmagundi Club, the Carnegie Institute, and the National Arts Club, as well as the St. Louis Expo of 1904, the Buenos Aires Expo of 1910, and the San Francisco Pan-Pacific Expo of 1915. Today, his work is featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the San Diego Museum of Art.
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