Due to Carlson’s busy teaching schedule, his own painting time was generally relegated to the late fall and winter, and thus he became known for his tonalist snow scenes. Painted in muted blues and greens, his silent forests, still rivers and rolling pastureland views captured the lyrical qualities of the season.
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In the artist’s powerful landscape The Source, he used an engaging mix of both brushwork and palette knife to render the towering trees standing sentinel over snow-capped boulders and a gently flowing, partially thawed woodland brook. While the scene depicts the frosty air and overcast skies of winter, passages of red and umber tones in the distance, and scattered among the rocks and swirling water, add a bit of warmth to the composition. As one of the artist’s largest paintings, he understandably chose to exhibit it at both the National Academy of Design in 1924 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1926, where Robert McIntyre of William Macbeth Gallery, Carlson’s representative, saw it illustrated in the catalogue and immediately wrote to him: “Though I have not seen the original the reproduction of your picture in the Pennsylvania Academy would seem to mark it as one of the best…I have a hunch if it is not sold from the Pennsylvania Academy, we might be able to sell it after that exhibition is over. At any rate, please do not let it get out of sight, except through a sale in the Pennsylvania Academy, until I have had a chance to get busy on it.” In response, Carlson appreciated McIntyre’s thoughts on the picture and remarked further: “I consider it one of my very best. (Hell’s fire an artist seldom knows when he has hit it).” In early March, Carlson received a letter from McIntyre confirming the painting’s sale through the Pennsylvania Academy to a collector named Judge Simpson, netting the artist $2,500.
 Letter from Robert McIntyre to John Carlson, February 3, 1926. Macbeth Gallery records, 1838-1968, bulk 1892-1953. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
 Letter from John Carlson to Robert McIntyre, February 4, 1926. Macbeth Gallery records, 1838-1968, bulk 1892-1953. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
To collection of Judge Simpson (possibly Judge Alexander Simpson, Pennsylvania), 1926
Eventually to private collection by the 1930s
By descent within the family for two generations to private collection, Gilford, New Hampshire, to present
1). (on frame, most is missing) National Academy of Design (rest is gone)
2). (on top stretcher) The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts / One Hundred and Twenty-First Annual Exhibition / 1926 / Title: The Source / Artist: John F. Carlson N.A. / Return Address: (illegible) Packing + Ship (1237 stamp on label)
3). (stamp on stretcher) Ex. P.A.F.A.
4). (stamp on canvas) Victor Claessens / Waereghem / Belgique / Made in Belgium
1). 99th Annual Exhibition, National Academy of Design, March 22 – April 20, 1924, no. 264 The Source
2). 121st Annual Exhibition, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, January 31 – March 21, 1926, no. 64 The Source (illus.)