Feature of the Week: Horse Power


Feature of the Week: Horse Power

Loyal and friendly, strong and tenacious, it has carried the nation on its four sturdy legs through a thousand years of history. This summer, the Reykjavík Art Museum celebrates the Icelandic horse in all its glory, with works by the nation’s leading artists spanning more than a century.

Published in the 2011 summer issue of Iceland Review – IR 49.02. By Ásta Andrésdóttir, images courtesy of Opna.


Thórarinn B. Thorláksson, Pike Ward on His Horse (1900).

Awe-inspiring and alive as if it might charge from out of the painting, standing still like a statue surrounded by green hills, reflected in calm blue waters; abstracted, winged, deconstructed, frolicking in nature or ridden by their owners: all the horses currently on display at the Reykjavík Art Museum, Kjarvalsstadir, are equally fascinating.

JÓR! Horses in Icelandic Art is an exhibition featuring oil paintings, photographs, sculptures and installations by Iceland’s leading artists; from Jóhannes Kjarval and Louisa Matthíasdóttir to Erró and Hallgrímur Helgason. Hailing from different periods, the artworks explore the multitude of roles the horse has played in Icelandic society during the significant changes it underwent during the 20th century. The vast variety underlines how the Icelandic horse plays a fundamental role in Iceland; it is loved and revered. Many of the artists are portraying more than animals; they are portraying their friends.

According to curator Adalsteinn Ingólfsson, the Icelandic people depended on the horse until very recently. “We didn’t have proper roads until long after World War II and thus the horse remained the most significant means of transportation far into the 20th century, in addition to its role in agriculture. Simply put, the horse meant everything. It has in fact been said that Iceland was founded on four legs. It enabled the establishment of Althingi, the world’s oldest parliament, in 930 AD; traveling on horseback enabled participants to gather there from all across Iceland.”

When Ingólfsson started assembling pieces for the exhibition, he intended to include craft, textiles and illustrations. However, because of its enormous quantity—demonstrating the horse’s popularity as subject matter—he soon decided to narrow it down to 20th century art, from which he had more than 100 works to choose from. A great deal of the displayed pieces is privately owned; never having been shown before.

You can read the remainder of this article in the 2011 summer issue of Iceland Review – IR 49.02. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country's majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.