Sculpture Obsession (KH)


katharinahauptmann02_dlReykjavík is especially lovely at this time of the year. It's the perfect time to take walks. Just yesterday I took a little stroll downtown to the pond Tjörnin and back.

On my way I encountered a lot of sculptures. One can find so many of those artistic creations around town. In fact, at every corner there is statue or sculpture. I'm always amazed by their number.

What is it with Icelanders and sculptures? It seems like Icelanders are almost obsessed with this art genre and just can't get enough.

It was not until the 19th century that Icelandic artists began to create sculptures whereas most other art forms had already flourished. Since then, Icelanders have embraced and obviously learned to love sculptures.

Here are the highlights:

One of the most prominent statues in Reykjavík is probably that of legendary explorer Leifur Eiríksson by American artist Alexander Stirling Calder.

It was a gift to the Icelandic people from the United States in honor of the millennial anniversary of Iceland's parliament in 1930. Now, the statue of Leifur Eiríksson is enthroned on top of the hill flanked by the city’s landmark Hallgrímskirkja church.


Photo by Páll Kjartansson.

Right next to the church we have the museum of Einar Jónsson (1874-1954), one of Iceland's most famous sculptors.

The adjacent small garden is full of Einar's work. This lovely sculpture garden is a popular spot among Icelanders for picnics and sun bathing during the summer.

Einar's bronze sculptures mostly have a heroic, monumental character.

One of Einar's creations, a bronze depiction of Iceland's first settler Ingólfur Arnarson is placed on top of the hill Arnarhóll in the heart of the city. There stands the Viking Ingólfur proudly looking over Faxaflói Bay, where he first came ashore.


Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

Another beautiful work of the artist is “Útilegumaður” (“Outlaw”). This magnificent sculpture is located between the University of Iceland library and an old graveyard, a suitable place.

It shows an outlawed man carrying his dead wife on his back while cradling his small daughter in his arms, accompanied by his dog.

This is definitely one of my favorites. Einar Jónsson really made the people in this artwork look very authentic and the determined but desperate expression on the outlaw’s face will haunt you.

Less haunting but nonetheless fascinating is “Sólfar” (“Sun Voyager”). It was created by Jón Gunnar Árnason (1931-1989) and has the dimensions 9x7x18 meters and is therefore quite big.


Photo by Geir Ólafsson.

It is based down by the sea (where a ship belongs) and is, against popular belief, not a modern, artistic version of an old Viking ship but some kind of a dreamboat, an ode to the sun symbolizing light and hope.

It's not hard to imagine that when the sun shines on “Sun Voyager” and its stainless steal reflects the glistening light. Now wonder that the tourists love it.

“Stóð” (“Horse Herd”) by Ragnar Kjartansson (1923-1988) is a bit hidden. It is located close to the bus terminal BSÍ and depicts a herd of wild, galloping Icelandic horses.

Hidden as well—but this time on purpose— is Magnús Tómasson's “Óþekkti Embættismaðurinn” (“The Unknown Bureaucrat”) from 1973.

“The Unknown Bureaucrat” shows a businessman carrying a briefcase whose torso is embedded in a rock. It was placed in a small backyard in downtown Reykjavík with the intention to emphasize the role of bureaucrats in this world.

The rock is not only a metaphor for the weight of the daily life but also hints at the unknown civil servant who is usually not perceived as a human being but just as a cog in a wheel. I love this sculpture because it's so simple but compelling.

One cannot talk about Icelandic sculptors without mentioning the great Ásmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982) who is the creator of many beautiful works.

He is mostly known for his series of abstracted figurative works and his themes were often men and women at work.

For instance, “Þvottakona” (“Washer Woman”) from 1937 shows a woman hand-washing her laundry. This object is situated in Laugardalur at a spot where in the old days the women of Reykjavík would come together from all over the city to do their laundry.

Another favorite of mine is “Horft til hafs” (“Looking Seawards”) by Ingi Þ. Gíslason (1905-1956). The sculpture portrays two fishermen standing next to each other.

One of them is pointing at something out at sea and the other is following his gaze, shielding his eyes with his hand against the sun.

This work of art is right by the city harbor (where else) and honors the seafaring community which provides Iceland's most precious food and chief export good.

This is just a tiny insight into Icelandic sculptures, of course.

Wherever you go in Iceland, a sculpture will be waiting for you.

Katharina Hauptmann – [email protected]

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.