Emil Carlsen 1853-1932

Peonies in Kang-Hsi Vase

  • 53 x 42 inches (134.6 x 106.7 cm)
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed lower right: Emil Carlsen

Why We Love It

Emil Carlsen made his reputation in America with the quality of his still life paintings. Peonies with a Kang Hsi Vase is one of the largest and best examples of these works. The lush, saturated colors and beautifully reflected light on the surface of the Chinese porcelain are bravura examples of what led him to acclaim during his lifetime. Much of Emil Carlsen’s work shows the influence of Asian culture on the artist. The inclusion of the beautiful blue and white vase in this monumental painting is a paean to that artistic heritage.

The Value

This is a large and superior example of the style and subject matter that made Emil Carlsen famous. Additionally, the painting has a strong exhibition record and has never been offered at auction. As such, this painting should always command a premium price.

Artist Background

1853: Born in Copenhagen, Denmark; 1870s: Studied architecture at the Danish Royal Academy; 1872: Immigrated to the United States, where he settled in Chicago and worked briefly as an architectural draftsman before he turned to painting and studied with Danish painter Laurits Holst; 1875: Traveled to Paris and Copenhagen to study the Old Masters and first encountered the work of the great still-life painter Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, who would remain a lifelong influence; 1876: Moved to New York City, and then to Boston; 1884-86: Returned to Paris to study; 1891-1918: Returned permanently to New York, where he taught at the National Academy of Design and also at PAFA in Philadelphia; 1891-1901: Formative period of development for Carlsen’s approach to still-life; 1911: Began association with William MacBeth and became an important member of Macbeth Galleries’ stable of artists; 1932: Died in New York.

As one of the twentieth century’s most renowned still-life painters,  Emil Carlsen’s work combined sensuous realism with impressionistic technique.  Largely a self-taught artist, Carlsen drew inspiration from the Old Masters and also the French Impressionists. He was particularly influenced by the 18th-century French painter Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, whose masterful still lifes Carlsen studied closely.

Peonies in Kang-Hsi Vase demonstrates the elegance of Carlsen’s mature style.  The richness of the color is heightened by the impressionistic effect of the artist’s deft brushwork.  Carlsen clearly understood and played on the taste for Oriental objects, as seen in the vase and inclusion of the peacock.  Indeed the desire for paintings that pictured more exotic objets d’art was also reflected in the work of many of Carlsen’s peers, including William Merritt Chase and John La Farge to name only two.  Of his still life paintings Carlsen wrote: “Still life painting must be of a well understood simplicity, solid, strong, vital, unnecessary details neglected, salient points embellished, made the most of, every touch of meaning and for the love of beauty.”