During his career, Carl Larsson (1853-1919) was a beloved figure in his native Sweden – a kind of national artistic treasure. In addition to his well known watercolors and books,  he also completed several monumental murals commissioned for public buildings in his home country. But being famous and well thought of is no guarantee of success, it seems. While he was working on a series of large murals to decorate the central staircase in the National Museum in Stockholm, Larsson proposed the idea for the final mural, to fit an enormous space measuring twenty feet by forty-six feet. The subject was based on the Norse mythology legend in which the Swedish King Domalde is sacrificed to save the country from famine. It was titled Midwinter Sacrifice (Midvinterblot).

Midvinterblot in the National Museum of Sweden. Photo by Hoger Elgaard.
Midvinterblot in the National Museum of Sweden. Photo by Hoger Elgaard.

Between 1911 and 1913 Larsson worked on how to paint the composition and completed several sketch versions of the painting in both oil and watercolor before beginning any work on the mural. However, these were met with fervent criticism revolving around the artist's personal interpretation of the legend. The third sketch version was finally accepted by the museum board, but with important suggested changes.

Although Larsson did make some changes to the final sketch version, he did not make all the changes suggested by the board. Upon completion of the large mural in 1915, the board rejected the painting. Some think that the painting had become unfashionable and did not fit the modernist ideals of the new century.

In his autobiography, Larsson wrote of his disappointment and bitterness over the rejection. "The fate of Midvinterblot broke me! This I admit with a dark anger. And still, it was probably the best thing that could have happened, because my intuition tells me – once again! – that this painting, with all its weaknesses, will one day, when I'm gone, be honoured with a far better placement."

The controversy over the painting continued for decades. After several relocations it was eventually bought by a Japanese art collector. He agreed to lend it to the museum for a major Larsson exhibition, where it was hung in its originally intended place. 300,000 visitors saw the work for the first time and funds were raised to buy the painting and put it on permanent display in the museum at last.

Most artists understand the inherent complexity of working on a commission, but hopefully have never had to experience the kind of rejection and controversy that Carl Larsson did. It is inspiring, though, to read his words of acceptance and to know that, ultimately, not only was his intuition proved correct but his artistic vision vindicated.

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–John and Ann

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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.