The National Gallery of Iceland contains a large collection of artworks, both from Icelandic and foreign artists. The Treasures of a Nation exhibition displays a selection of works from their collection. It shows the evolution of art in Iceland from the early 19th century to contemporary times. The exhibition is filled with pioneers of modern Icelandic art. It showcases a wide range of materials, from sculptures to textile art, and from paintings to video. The collection provides a wealth of information on Icelandic art and art history, including works from Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval, Erró, and many others. In this article, we will describe five artworks you can see in the Treasures of a Nation exhibition.
Emanuel Larsen – Geysir, 1847
Geysir is a painting by Danish painter C.F. Emanuel Larsen, one of the last Danish Golden Age painters. Larsen studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen and is mainly known for his seascapes. In 1846, he travelled to Iceland on an expedition arranged by the King of Denmark, Christian VIII, to study the eruption of Mt. Hekla. During this expedition, Larsen travelled extensively in Iceland. There are many drawings, prints, and paintings from this period showing Icelandic landmarks, like the painting Geysir, painted in 1947. Larsen may have been the first painter to study the special Icelandic light.
Þóra P. Thoroddsen – Bessastaðir and Keilir, 1881
Þóra Pétursdóttur Thoroddsen was one of the first young Icelandic women to get educated in drawing and painting in the latter half of the 19th century. In 1873, she went to Copenhagen and spent two years learning how to draw and paint at the private art school of painter Vilhem Khyn (1819-1902). When she returned to Iceland, she mostly painted and drew scenes and landscapes from Reykjavík. One example is the watercolour painting of the view of Bessastaðir and Mt. Keilir from 1881.
Ásgrímur Jónsson – Hornafjörður, 1927
Ásgrímur Jónsson is regarded as one of Iceland’s best-known folklore artists, pioneering in the painting of Icelandic folk and fairy tales. He studied at the private art school of Gustav and Sophus Vermehren and at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In 1903, he held his first show in Reykjavík, making him Iceland’s first professional artist. He was influenced by the romantic and naturalistic traditions, but also jumped on the modernism bandwagon. He mostly painted Icelandic nature, and his artworks are believed to lay the foundations of the Icelandic landscape tradition. Hornafjörður, painted in 1927, is an example of his landscape paintings. You can see more of his works at Bergstaðastæti 74 in Reykjavík, which houses the National Gallery’s Ásgrímur Jónsson Collection.
Brynhildur Þorgeirsdóttir – Sculpture, 1983
Artist Brynhildur Þorgeirsdóttir uses a variety of materials and media to express her ideas. Her sculptures reflect the punk era and the new expressionist painting movement. Contrast is a central theme in her artworks, and this comes to fruition in the use of soft and organic forms and combination of light and massive materials. Brynhildur has a strong connection with nature, and she views her artworks as individuals, rather than only a combination of form and material. Her artwork Sculpture, made in 1983, looks like a mythical creature or a critter straight out of your dreams.
5. Hrafnkell Sigurðsson – Untitled, 2001
Artist Hrafnkell Sigurðsson studied art at the Jan Van Eyck Akademie in the Netherlands and has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Goldsmiths in London. He works mostly with photography and often works with objects he finds in his surroundings. Exploring open spaces, but also structures of towns and cities, he aims to show Icelandic nature in contemporary society. His photography series showing tents in snowy landscapes reminds the viewer of the first generation of Icelandic landscape painters from the early 20th century. His artworks are therefore believed to be a conversation with tradition.