"It's really terrible outdoors. The wind is whistling through the joints of the house and the snow is not snow but sharp needles that get into the corners of one's eyes… Just the right time for a game of "vira". Here is the tray full of comforting drinks and all the necessaries and Karin is still not finished with the final decorations which include the monastery liqueur which she is taking off the shelf. In the background is the altar itself, the card table that I have arranged myself."
Carl Larsson's own description of his painting Getting Ready for a Game in the book entitled Larssons which was published by Bonniers in 1902. The "vira" that Carl Larsson mentioned was an enormously popular card game invented in Sweden sometime in the 19th century.
When the picture was painted the Larsson family had settled permanently at their summer residence at Sundborn in the hills of Dalarna. In his autobiography Carl Larsson writes that it was his wife, Karin, who gave him the idea of portraying their home in pictures. Books about the Larsson home in Sundborn sold in huge editions and the pictures spread in innumerable reproductions. Few homes throughout the world have received as much publicity. For many people, Sundborn is the quintessence of all things Swedish though, in point of fact, the Larssons had a very international taste in furnishing.
The first of the Sundborn watercolours were shown at the Stockholm Exhibition of 1897. Ellen Key, the pioneering author and feminist, saw them at the exhibition and wrote an article on Beauty in the home that was published in the magazine Idun. Ellen Key wanted to create opinion against the "Germanic" style of furnishing which was usual at the time in Sweden. This consisted of dark wallpapers, heavy drapes and curtains, velvet-covered sofas and chairs and dried flowers. In Carl Larsson's watercolours she found something that could replace this.
Both Ellen Key and the Karin and Carl Larsson had been inspired by John Ruskin's ideas about a more beautiful world beyond that of the mass-produced items of the factories. In Ruskin's view, beauty must collaborate with function and the task of art and architecture was a moral one in that they created the necessary conditions for spiritual health, energy and joy. Ruskin's theory about the importance of beauty in everyday life was taken up by William Morris in the field of crafts. Morris started the Arts and Crafts Movement that sought to bring new life to the traditional crafts s an alternative to industrial products. The ideas of the movement were spread by a highly influential magazine called The Studio which the Larssons subscribed to.
The famous home at Sundborn was created jointly by Karin and Carl Larsson. Carl took an active part in the public life of the art world while Karin's contribution remained unrecognized right up to the 1980s. In fact Karin Larsson had received a thorough artistic training. She attended both what is now the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm – better known as Konstfack and the Academy of Fine Arts. She met Carl in Paris while he was studying there. After their marriage she gave birth to seven children in rapid succession. And so family life and managing the household took up her time and her professional life retired into the background. Karin never ceased to be creative but channelled this energy into furnishing Sundborn, for example. The home at Sundborn became her life work. For the house constantly changed in character to suit the shifting needs of the family.