The still-life, landscape, and marine painter Emil Carlsen started his art education in his native Denmark, at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, while still a teenager. Along with painting, he studied architecture and sculpture, and upon arrival to the United States in 1872, he worked as an assistant to an architect in Chicago. The artist later worked for another Danish painter, Lauritz B. Holst. Soon Carlsen began teaching at the Chicago Academy of Design.
In 1876 the artist moved to Boston where he worked as an assistant to Alexander Pope. Carlesen's dark still lifes date back to this period. In 1884, Carlsen went to study to Paris for two years, supported by the New York dealer T.J.Blakeslee. Carlsen painted a floral still life every month for his patron in return.
After training in Paris, the artist worked in New York and San Francisco, and settled at last in New York.
In 1902, Carlsen was elected to the Society of American Artists. In 1904, he was awarded with Shaw Fund Prize, Webb Prize in 1905, Innes Gold Medal in 1907, Andrew Carnegie Prize in 1919.
Yet, Carlsen was beyond middle age before his quietest, wispy landscapes and softly tonal still lifes were able to support him. When he was an older man his paintings sold better, and after his death the artist's reputation as such that in 1935, his dealer, the Macbeth Gallery, held a one-man memorial show of his work.