Biographical / Historical
Painter Emil Carlsen (1853-1932) was born Soren Emil Carlsen in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1853. He studied architecture at the Danish Royal Academy for four years, and also painted alongside cousin and painter Viggo Johansen, one of Denmark's most notable painters. In 1872, he immigrated to the United States where he worked as an architectural assistant and as an assistant for Danish marine painter Laurits Bernhard Holst (1848-1934) in Chicago, Illinois. After studying in Paris for several years, he set up a painting studio in New York and then Boston, then spending two years (1887-1889) as the Director of the San Francisco Arts Association School. In 1891, he moved back to New York and taught at the National Academy of Design until 1918. He spent most of his time with his family at their vacation home in Falls Village, Connecticut when he didn't have teaching commitments in New York, where they also kept an apartment. In 1904, after struggling to become known for his work for many years, he was elected as an associate of the New York National Academy; he won the Shaw Prize from the Society of American Artists; and was awarded the Gold Medal at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis for his still-life "Blackfish and Clams". Carlsen is best known for his still-life paintings and has been called "The American Chardin." Before purchasing his own property in Falls Village, Carlsen stayed often with friend and painter J. Alden Weir (1852-1919) at his farm, painting landscapes.
After deciding to make a career in painting rather than architectural design, Carlsen spent many years experimenting and finding his style. His paintings during 1872-1874 reflected his time spent assisting Laurits Bernhard Holst, and were in the style of traditional Danish marine paintings. Struggling financially, Holst arranged for Carlsen to receive his studio when Holst moved back to Denmark in 1874. At the recommendation of Chicago sculptor Leonard Wells Volk, Carlsen became an art instructor at the now Chicago Arts Institute, though he left for an opportunity to study classical painting for 6 months in Paris, where he spent time studying the painting of Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin.
After Paris, he moved to a boarding house in New York, and then spent several years in Boston where he had his first exhibit at the Boston Art Club. In 1879 he moved back to New York and set up a studio, supplementing his painting with work as an engraver. During the 1880s Carlsen began becoming known for his still-life paintings, and commission work sent him to Paris again, this time for two years. He was commissioned by T. J. Blakeslee to produce bright flower paintings which were popular at the time, creating about one per month. Other American dealers began wanting his flower paintings as well, but Carlsen soon grew bored and returned to New York, refusing to paint any more flowers for Blakeslee, in 1887. It was during this time that Carlsen developed an interest in still-lifes with Chinese porcelain. His time in Paris also saw a brightening of his landscapes, as was the European style of the time. In the late 1800s he also became interested in painting white objects, such as porcelain, ceramics, garlic cloves, clothing, etc.
He married Luella May Ruby, a young model, in 1896, and his son Dines Carlsen was born in 1901. From 1900-1932, Carlsen favored a subdued color palette in his work. As still-life paintings fell out of vogue, he also painted more landscapes and marines, favoring Falls Village, Connecticut; Windham, Maine; and Port Washington, New York.
He died in New York at the age of 78, in 1932.