Should a woman’s life change because she marries someone famous? Would her life change even more if both she and her husband share the same career?
In 1882 at the age of twenty-three Karin Bergöö became engaged to Carl Larsson, a young and promising Swedish painter, already garnering a name for his stylistic art. Karin had grown up in an unusually liberal Swedish family where her parents had encouraged their daughters to pursue their own talents and interests. After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, Karin decided she wanted to paint with a small artists’ colony transitioning to plein-air realism and located in Grez-sur-Loing, France. It was there that she met her future husband.
They both had talent, and they both had aspirations. He came from a background of poverty, while Karin’s family was securely middle-class. Unusual for that time period in Sweden to marry outside your social status – but, they did. Within the beginning years of their marriage, Karin was faced with making some important decisions. Should she, would she, continue with her painting career? If she continued painting, might she eventually become part of her husband’s competition?
It would have been easy to simply give up her art, but she didn’t. Nor did she compete with her husband. Instead, she looked at her new life with family obligations, and decided to turn her artistic flair in a different direction; she began to experiment in enhancing and embellishing their home.
Karin’s parents had given the couple a vintage summer-house near the village of Sundborn in the northern province of Dalarna, Sweden as a gift. Think swaying birch trees in summer and Christmas card perfect snow in winter to grasp an idea of the environment. With its unspoiled rural landscape and pristine Nordic light, it made for a wonderful artistic retreat. Eventually Carl and Karin transformed the residence to become their permanent home.
In Sundborn, Karin started to take weaving lessons. Soon she was fashioning bold geometric designs for their household textiles, often embellished by her original folk art motif embroidery. That step led her in an artistic direction from which she never backed down and gained her lasting recognition, but not necessarily fame for her new style of design.
While raising their seven children, Karin wove table runners, table cloths, pillowcases, bedspreads, curtains, kitchen linens, and portieres (full length curtains that function as interior doors); all adorned with her unique unencumbered style. As she looked around their home she saw spots where practical furniture was needed and she designed it; then she painted her plant stands, chairs, or even the children’s wooden beds, a bright and cheery green.
She also designed all her own clothes, in a free billowy fashion that matched her needs and her busy lifestyle. In addition to also making clothes for her children, she invented and designed a provincial folk costume for the parish of Sundborn, which was adopted by the residents and worn on festive occasions.
For many of her textiles, Karin often selected primary colors so for example, her blues stood out vividly against the background, and her trims, often in a bright cherry red, drew the eye in to focus on the main creation. In every project she undertook, her designs were personal and innovative.
While it was her husband, Carl Larsson, whose art found its way into museums and books, it was Karin’s artistic influence that is continually present in Carl’s pictures of a cozy family room, or a picnic scene with their children wearing outfits of Karin’s design, or of a peaceful spot of solitude in their home with her textiles and furniture nestled in the background. Carl’s books became immediate successes as the Swedish public clamored to see renditions of his family, his home, and his life in the picturesque countryside. It is mainly through these books that visual examples of Karin’s incredible talent still endure.
And if you have ever visited an IKEA store, then you have witnessed the ‘new Swedish design style’ that Karin Bergöö Larsson helped start over one hundred years ago.
Strong women are often smart women as well, knowing when and where to bloom.
“Love is a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
~ Robert Heinlein
from Pearls of Wisdom, compiled by Keith Adams
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