Friday, November 4, 2011

Featured Item of the Week: Ett Hem

As many of you may have heard, we recently acquired a large private collection of deluxe illustrated children’s books from the late 19th and early 20th century. In addition to works by Arthur Rackham, Alastair, and Dulac, the collection includes several large, oblong books by the Swedish illustrator Carl Larsson. One that particularly caught my eye was Ett Hem (A Home), an album of watercolors of Lilla Hyttnäs, Larsson’s cottage in Sundborn, Sweden.

Ett Hem was Larsson's second book. Due to its numerous large, full-color illustrations, this first edition of Ett Hem, published by the Swedish firm Bonniers, was only produced in a very small, expensive print run. As such, they are now uncommon. However, a German version of the book published in 1909 became an instant bestseller and brought the Larssons international recognition.

In the introduction to Ett Hem, Larsson describes how this country cottage gave him a sense of peace and seclusion that he had previously only felt while he was in the French countryside, where he spent time in an artists’ colony. Larsson’s father-in-law gave him the cottage in 1888, and he and his wife, Karin, immediately set about transforming it into their dream home. He writes that he wanted his home to be decorated exactly according to his taste, with every detail just right, otherwise he wouldn’t be happy and his work would suffer.

The results of this labor of love are documented in Ett Hem, which was published just over ten years later. The illustrations reveal a home that is practically a work of art in itself, and yet, is cozy, comfortable, and lovingly lived-in. In a painting of the living room, the family dog naps on a rumpled rug and newspaper pages are strewn on the sofa. The artist’s own studio is filled with orderly clutter: canvases in various states and rolls of fabric lean against the wall, and his work table is covered with papers, boxes of paint, and vases of fresh wildflowers. The Larssons’ home celebrates an Arts and Crafts-inspired handmade aesthetic, decorated throughout with bright murals and artwork on the walls, cheerful, homemade blue-striped slipcovers on hand-me-down furniture, and bold textiles designed, woven, embroidered, and printed by Karin, who also had a background in art. Larsson’s watercolors pay tribute not only to the cottage itself, but to his family (who appear in many of the illustrations, going about their daily activities), and the landscape and community surrounding them.

In a profile of the artist's home, Anna Hoffman, of Apartment Therapy, writes, "The Larssons' aesthetic owed a lot to the writings of William Morris, who also espoused a return to simplicity, to handcraft and to natural beauty. These qualities not only helped define the direction of Scandinavian design in the 20th century, but is still deeply influential today." Lilla Hyttnäs is now a museum, preserved as an example of ground-breaking Swedish interior design. The cottage still looks almost exactly as it was depicted in Carl Larsson's watercolors. However, Ett Hem captures something that no museum ever could: what everyday life was like for the artist and his family at home.

For more information on this book, please visit our website.

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