I’ve known the work of Swedish artist Carl Larsson (1853–1919) for many years via a collection of drawings and paintings of the artist’s family and home life, light works created between bouts of more serious painting. The interiors in the At Home series are especially good, meticulously rendered watercolours which today resemble the kinds of delineations found in Continental comic books. Less familiar is the work Larsson created prior to these drawings.
Dödens Engel (The Angel of the Death) is a book-length religious poem by Johan Olof Wallin inspired by the cholera epidemic of the 1830s, the same epidemic that Poe writes about in The Sphinx. Larsson illustrates every page of this edition from 1880, deploying the full range of traditional death symbolism: skulls, hourglasses, scythes, extinguished torches and so on.The sombre imagery makes a striking contrast with the pictures of Larsson’s home life yet the painting for which he hoped to be remembered, Midvinterblot (1915), is equally doom-laden, a huge canvas that depicts a king preparing to sacrifice himself to spare his people from famine.