by Jeffrey Morseburg
Carlsen was a gifted landscape painter. Though his early fame rested on
the strength of his moody still lifes and he won a number of major awards
and critical attention for his later marines, he painted landscapes throughout
his career. While living and teaching in San Francisco, he often traveled
to the Redwoods and the Sierras to paint. According to a clipping in the
San Francisco Examiner, Carlsen would use yellow chalk to let students and
friends know that he had "Gone to Redwoods Back afer Jinks."
Emil Carlsen's early landscapes were soft and atmospheric, and relied on a subdued palette with a wider degree of contrast than his later work. As he became aware of the techniques of the French Impressionists, his palette became lighter, with brighter colors, but he narrowed his range of values, which resulted in a flattening of forms. The resulting landscapes were high in key, but due to the narrow tonal range, remained subdued and atmospheric. With a flatter overall effect, the shapes of trees and hills in Carlsen's landscapes took on a more decorative appearance, and his use of textured underpainting gave them a sense of pattern - like a naturalistic tapestry.
Like his friend John Twachtman, Carlsen eliminated the dark colors from his palette. In contrast to the French Impressionists, who also banished black from their work, Carlsen worked with a dry rather than a loaded brush. Instead of executing his paintings with loose, rapidly applied brush strokes, his seemingly spontaneous works were the result of one deliberate, carefully applied stroke after another.
Carlsen was a quiet, solitary figure who rarely ventured out of the studio for social occasions. Nevertheless, he had warm friendships with the landscape painters John Twachtman, Julian Alden Weir and Childe Hassam. He worked "en plein-air" with his fellow artists and produced one of his most memorable landscapes, "Weir's Tree," while painting on Julian Weir's rustic farm (now a National Historic Landmark). There are precious few snow scenes among Carlsen's ouvre becasue he had no use for the cold. He refused to even paint in the portable studio that Weir had built on a sled to make winter painting more hospitable.
Carlsen painted a number of pastorals, often with resting cattle, which gave the paintings a sense of restful contemplation. Like his still lifes and marines, the landscapes of Emil Carlsen had a humble grace that was a true reflection of the artist's character.
59" x 471/2"
Oil on Canvas
Clearing Beyond the Trees"
29" x 40"
Oil on Canvas
1928 (Private Collection)