DescriptionEMIL CARLSEN (American 1853-1932)
Still Life With Garlic On A Ledge, circa 1920s
Oil on panel
33 x 24-1/2inches (83.8 x 62.2 cm)
Signed in full at lower left: Emil Carlsen
This enigmatic and sophisticated late work by the Danish-born painter Emil Carlsen combines his lifelong interest in the evocation of mood and the emotional tension that can be evoked through the powerful presence of a still-life object. In this sizable easel painting, Carlsen obscures the boundaries between landscape (albeit an interior environment) and still life-his two specialties as a painter: most of the image is suffused with a ruddy darkness reminiscent of Rembrandt's work. The very spare interior space he has portrayed is activated by a shaft of light which comes from outside the scene in the manner of Caravaggio. It strikes two round objects on a plain wooden ledge, giving them a solemn plasticity and importance beyond anything they might actually represent. Are these onions or heads of garlic-two herbs Carlsen frequently included in his kitchen still lifes from the 1880s on-or are they apples blanched by the light, or possibly two hard rolls of bread? Regardless, they suggest the presence of someone who set them there, and who might still be present beside them in the fringed, red woolen shawl to the right. The shaft of light then moves past the bench to strike the stone floor below, illuminating the groove between the two pieces of pavement, calling sharp attention to the gash. The scene is intentionally mysterious, a suggestion. The viewer is at liberty to fill in the details.
Both shadowy and radiant in its palette and attention to the fall of light on form, this meditative still life is the work of a mature painter who, during the course of his career, made a very careful study of the Old Masters as well as the Impressionists. During the 1870s, following a brief return trip to his native Denmark, Carlsen went to Paris where he stayed for six months and discovered the work of the eighteenth-century French still-life master, Chardin. When he returned to New York, Carlsen began to develop a reputation as a still-life painter, and began producing a wide variety of subjects from Chardin-like fish pieces to kitchen still-lifes with glinting copper pots to arrangements incorporating oriental objects. Commissioned by a dealer to paint saleable flower pieces, he returned to Paris in 1884, where he remained for two years, painting numerous brightly-colored pictures and adopting an impressionistic palette. Eventually, he grew tired of this repetitious work and broke the contract he had made with the dealer. Carlsen went back to New York and opened a studio on West 57th Street. He worked there until 1887, when he began a two-year tenure as director of the San Francisco Art Association's school. He resigned this post in 1889 but remained in San Francisco until 1891.
Carlsen settled again in New York in 1891 when he began teaching at the National Academy of Design. For the 19 years of his tenure there, he was a well-liked and influential instructor. At this phase of his career, Carlsen became friendly with William Merritt Chase, J. Alden Weir, and Childe Hassam-all of whom worked in an impressionist mode which he, too, adopted at various points in his development.
During his lifetime, Carlsen's still-life paintings were noted for their beauty and elegance, and as one contemporary writer remarked, Carlsen was "unquestionably the most accomplished master of still-life painting in America today." During the 1920s when the present work was painted, Carlsen often painted his still-life subjects on panel rather than canvas.
Estimate: $7,000 - $9,000.
on panel, surface possibly cleaned, no apparent restoration under black light
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