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Located in the heart of the Cumberland Valley in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, Silla has actively collected, conserved and cataloged fine objects since its inception in 2009. While the collection has an emphasis on sculpture from 1860 through 1930, a full range of beautiful objects, furniture and paintings are always on display in our 9000 sq ft downtown gallery.

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"The Intruder" | John Fabian Carlson

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United States, 1874-1947

"The Intruder"

Oil on canvas | Signed lower right "J. F. Carlson", verso signed in script in graphite "John F. Carlson" on stretcher and titled "The Intruder" in the same hand | stamped twice by Vose Galleries with estate authentication

Item # 104LPP28C 

A haunting work unusual in his oeuvre, The Intruder captures a midnight visit from Death while two wisps of figures flanking him in the shadows bow their head with a certain deference to the central figure. In the lower levels of the stately manor, two windows have hints of light in them, presumably the destination for the evening's unwanted visitor. The eerie subject matter is seen in his small early pair of paintings The Haunted House and The Witches Cabin (1909) with the same familiar blue undertones; this palette followed him through his career as he rendered wonderful pictures of the woods at midnight. It is an interesting work in the way the trees are used to frame the scene, but they are not a focal point but rather work to elongate the horizon of the scene, emphasizing the clearing - the space between life and death - that this feared figure breaches as he exits the shadows of the trees.

When we acquired this scene, it was riddled with overpaint and discolored varnishes that were rather tough work for our conservator. The initial view was simply three men walking towards a castle, perhaps as robbers in the night. But as the overpaint came off and the scene was uncovered, the scythe of our Reaper was revealed and the obscured signature lower right was also discovered under the pigment and varnish. It was a fine example of the unfortunate tendency of so many conservators: to "improve" a painting. What likely started as a defensible attempt to disguise spots of over-cleaning seems to have devolved into "improving the subject" with extensive color added to the trees and shadows, figures and recesses. Our conservator did a very nice job in fully reversing this to reveal the canvas, the nuance of the color and true tonality of the image and simply seal it in a traditional Damar varnish. The result is an exquisite display of variety in hue and tone throughout as forms blend one into the other and borders are fully obscured. It is signed in the lower left corner "J. F. Carlson" and the reverse of the painting retains on the stretcher bars the authentication stamps of Vose Galleries in Boston as well as "John F. Carlson" inscribed in the artist's own hand in graphite along with the title "The Intruder" also in his hand. It was formerly with the Spanierman Gallery.

The work is housed in a lovely giltwood frame of the period.

Born in Sweden in 1874, as a youth John Fabian Carlson immigrated to the United States in 1883/84 and settled in Buffalo, New York with his family. He studied at the Albright School of Art under Lucius Hitchcock and in 1902 was a pupil of Frank DuMond at the Art Students League in New York, having won a scholarship for his work. He won another scholarship to study at the fledgling artist colony of Byrdcliffe in Woodstock, New York around 1903 where he studied under the Tonalist painter Birge Harrison. Harrison would have enormous impact on his work, first as his teacher and later as a mentor, teaching Carlson how to manipulate color and interject light into forms to evoke a certain serenity in his work.

As a member of the Art Student League's Board of Control, Carlson was instrumental in the decision to move the Summer School from Connecticut to Woodstock, where Harrison was named director and hired Carlson as his assistant. Here he taught from 1906 through 1918, taking over the direction of this school in 1911 after Harrison's retirement. The school flourished under Carlson's leadership, as he poured a great deal of his energies into the school and had under enrollment as many as one hundred students annually until he resigned in 1918.

After spending two years in Colorado Springs, Colorado teaching at the Broadmoor Academy and painting the dramatic landscapes of the west, he returned in 1922 to establish the John F. Carlson School of Landscape Painting in Woodstock where he would continue teaching through his death in 1945. Because of his teaching schedule, much of his painting was confined to the fall and winter months. In 1928 he published Elementary Principles of Landscape Painting, a book that would become a popular enough as a study guide for budding landscape artists to be republished again as Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting in 1953, 1958, 1970 and 1973. In 1942 he established a summer school together with Emile Gruppe in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

His work was distinctly Tonalist in nature, bringing to life shapes and forms through the dense collection of pigments that eventually culminate in distinguished pathways, trees, foliage or rivers. He had a particular emphasis on the emotive qualities of light and shadow in affecting the mood and atmosphere of a picture. His careful observations of nature and ability to transmute those into hints and suggestions on a canvas allowed him to become one of the leading landscape artists of his era.

He exhibited at the National Academy of Design from 1907 through 1944, missing only three years during that long stretch. He was made an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1911 and a full member in 1925. His final three paintings were offered there at lofty prices of $ 2,500 (Winter Morning), $ 3,000 (January Morning), and $ 3,500 (Quiet Valleys). He exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1905 through 1929 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts starting in 1911. He won first-prize at the Swedish-American Exhibition in Chicago in 1911, the Vezin and Isidor prizes at the Salmagundi Club in 1912, the silver-medal at the Washington Society of Artists in 1913, a silver-medal at the Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1915, the Carnegie prize at NAD in 1918, the Ranger Fund prize at NAD in 1923 and the Altman prize at NAD in 1936. In addition to the extensive exhibitions he held throughout his lifetime, he had four posthumous solo exhibitions held for his work by Vose Galleries in Boston. His work is held in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooks Memorial Gallery, the Carnegie Institute, the Corcoran Gallery, the National Academy of Design, the Toledo Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum among others.

Artist Listings & Bibliography:

  • The Annual Exhibition Record of the National Academy of Design, 1901-1950, Falk, 1990, p. 118-119
  • The Annual Exhibition Record of the Art Institute of Chicago, 1888-1950, Falk, 1990, p. 189-190
  • The Annual Exibition Record of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1876-1913, Falk, 1989, p. 125
  • E. Benezit Dictionary of Artists, vol. III, Gründ, 2006, p. 408-409
  • Mantle Fielding's Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors & Engravers, Opitz, 1983, p. 142

Measurements: 26 1/4" W x 20 1/4" H [canvas]; 37" W x 31 1/4" H [frame]

Condition Report:
Original support in excellent condition with all keys present; linen lining around tacking strip; ground is stable with light craquelure; we have had the painting carefully restored by our conservator, which included the removal of most overpaint throughout [including the overpainting of the scythe and covering the original signature lower left; spots of overpaint that were intended to remedy the spots of overcleaning were removed and restored to the original state with trace ground and canvas visibility and some rubbing of the pigments, most notable in the lower right quadrant of the painting], removed discolored varnish and replaced with a traditional damar varnish; in an overall excellent state of condition. Frame early and perhaps original to the painting; loss lower left corner at the extreme edge (approx. 1 3/4"), bottom cartouche with a loss at the center nub, loss to extreme right lower corner, rubbing wear throughout.