John F. Carlson

Swedish-American, 1875–1947


One of the great interpreters of the wooded landscape, John Carlson taught the Art Student League classes in Woodstock until 1918, and later set up his own school, the John Fabian School of Landscape Painting and wrote a seminal textbook, Elementary Principles of Landscape Painting. Carlson extended the Tonalist aesthetic pioneered by George Inness, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, and Birge Harrison into the 1930s. His woodland scenes display a quieter mode of Tonalism, but still with broad, vigorous brush work. Carlson rendered nature with bold impasto and strong tactility, demonstrating that a poetic use of tone and powerful handling of paint could produce works of both abstract complexity and stirring emotion. Although somber snowscapes were something of a specialty, Carlson is best known for his work that drew on many of the Asian compositional techniques—flattening, cropping, and acute vantage points—introduced by Whistler a generation before.