The Gossipy Art Of Louis Larsen

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When the Norwegian artist Lauritz Larsen Mossige emigrated to America in the early 1880’s, he settled in Deckertown—now Sussex—New Jersey, and changed his name to Louis Larsen. The Americanization process did not stop there, and Larsen seems to have made himself a scholar of all the small-town scandals that enlivened life in Deckertown. Unlike virtually all other such primitive paintings, the two on these pages have come down to us rich with gossip about the people in them. Goings on in the Union House, for instance, apparently fascinated Larsen; he did no fewer than five canvases on this noble theme. In the one shown here Pierce Cole lounges on the porch. Pierce was a bitter man. It seems that a few years before this scene was painted, he took his girl to the circus. There a bounder named Jim Feakes stole her away, and thereafter Pierce forsook women forever. He lived out his days in sour bachelorhood at the Union House, in the last room to the left on the second floor. Larsen himself was something of a town scandal—he drank. This so distressed the townspeople that they discarded many of his paintings. However, thanks largely to the efforts of Carroll O. Dailey, a local insurance agent, upward of sixty paintings that survived the wrath of the Sussex County burghers were brought to light and exhibited a decade ago. Since then some twenty-five more have been discovered, and so, happily, Larsen, who died in 1932, has long outlived his detractors.