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Carl C. A. Christensen

Carl Christian Anton Christensen was born in Denmark in 1832. A convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an early immigrant to Salt Lake City, his interest in Mormon pioneer history and The Church's religious themes dominates his paintings. He died in 1912 in Ephraim, Utah. 


Christensen studied painting and toy making at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen. Monumental narrative scenes are his best-known works. His paintings of scenes from daily life reflect a narrative skill that defines him as a visual historian of the Mormon pioneer experience. 

Christensen's greatest achievement came after his arrival in Utah when he completedMormon Panorama, a 22-scene narrative that tells the migration story of an early leader of The Church, Joseph Smith, to Utah. The panels depict his journey: from his vision in Palmyra to the Mormon pioneers' arrival in the Great Salt Lake Valley. This panorama was primarily exhibited in communities where members of The Church lived. Christensen also painted scenes for the Salt Lake Theater and murals for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Temples in St. George, Manti, and Logan, Utah.

Biography adapted from Springville Museum of Art.

Carl Christian Anton Christensen was born in Denmark in 1832. He studied painting and toy making at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen. In 1850, he became a member of the Latter-day Saint (L.D.S.) Church and served an L.D.S. mission to Vest-Sjelland, Denmark. After returning home, he joined an emigrant company that took him to England and eventually to New York. From New York, he and his wife, Elsie Scheel, traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois, where they purchased a handcart and traveled by foot to Utah. He arrived in Utah with the “Danish flag flying from his cart, his trousers flapping in tatters about his legs.“

During his trek, Christensen made many sketches of the American scenery and the events that happened along the journey, but it was not until the 1860s that he had the opportunity to paint again. Little about C. C. A. Christensen's first years in Utah is known. Many years passed between his arrival in 1857 and any public exhibition of his paintings.

L.D.S. pioneer and religious themes dominate Christensen's work. Perhaps his greatest achievement is Mormon Panorama, a monumental narrative that tells in twenty-two 8' x 12' scenes about the history of the L.D.S. Church from Joseph Smith's vision in Palmyra, New York, to the arrival of the L.D.S. pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley. To make transportation of the panorama easier, the scenes were attached in sequence as a continuous scroll on a roller, and the artist and panorama toured in Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah (1869-1890).

The pioneer experience was a favorite theme of Christensen's in smaller works as well. Typical are two paintings from the 1890s: Handcart Pioneer's First View of Salt Lake Valley (1890, S.M.A.) and Winter Quarters (1891, S.M.A.).

“C. C. A.,“ as he was called by historians in his later life and after his death, was one of the first artists employed to paint scenery for the Salt Lake Theater. He also worked on decoration for the St. George, Manti, and Logan L.D.S. Temples.

Christensen's work has a naive, or primitive, quality that stems from his simple treatment of anatomy and perspective, which he learned during his early artistic training in Denmark. A genre artist by nature, his paintings, or scenes from daily life, reflect great narrative skill that earns him respect as a visual historian of his people.

Biography courtesy Springville Museum of Art

Newspaper Articles

"Life's Paths Lead Toward Incomprehensible Future." The Deseret News, May 19, 1995.

"Smithsonian Guide To The Desert Southwest." The Deseret News, April 1, 1990.

"Storytellers: Scandinavians' art told of Restoration." The Deseret News, January 22, 2000.

Books

Axelrod, Alan. Art of the Golden West. New York, NY: Abbeville Press, 1990.

Bishop, Robert. Folk Painters of America. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton, 1979.

Brown, Dee. The Westerners. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.

Christensen, Carl Christian Anton. Poetiske Arbejder Artikler og Afhandlinger tilligemed hans Levnedsl. Salt Lake City, UT: "Bikubens" Bibliotek, 1921.

Davenport, Ray. Davenport's Art Reference. Ventura, CA: Davenport's Art Reference, 2001.

Dawdy, Doris. Artists of the American West: A Biographical Dictionary. Chicago, IL: Sage Books, 1990.

Dillenberger, Jane and J C Taylor. The Hand and Spirit. Berkeley, CA: University Art Museum, 1972.

Dunbier, Lonnie Pierson. ed. The Artists Bluebook: 29,000 North American Artists. Scottsdale, AZ: AskART.com, 2003.

Gerdts, William H. Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting, 1710-1920. New York, NY: Abbeville Press, 1990.

Haseltine, James L. 100 Years of Utah Painting: Selected Works from the 1840s to the 1940s. Salt Lake City, UT: Salt Lake Art Center, 1965.

Olpin, Robert S., William C. Seifrit, and Vern G. Swanson. Artists of Utah. Salt Lake City, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1999.

Samuels, Peggy and Harold Samuels. The Illustrated Biographical Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Art. Layton, UT: Peregrine Smith Books, 1991.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, and William C. Seifrit. Utah Painting and Sculpture. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 1991.

Swanson, Vern G., Robert S. Olpin, Donna Poulton, and Janie Rogers. 150 Years Survey of Utah Art, Utah Artist. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2001.

Watkins, T. H. and Joan P. Watkins. Western Art Masterpieces. New York, NY: Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, 1996.

Periodicals

Arts Magazine. "Carl Christensen." Arts Magazine, vol 45, September/October 1970, 58.

Carmer, Carl. "A Panorama of Mormon Life." Art in America, May-June 1970, 52-65.

 Last Modified 5/6/14