Posted in Exhibitions & Books, Research & Reflection

Icelandic National Gallery Visit

We recently visited Iceland, partly to see the Northern Lights, and as part of the trip we got a 48h City Card for Reykjavik. The card is an excellent investment due to the number of museums and art galleries it gets you into. One of these is the National Gallery.

Images: Most of the images are my own photos from the gallery, often processed through Microsoft Lens to reduce viewpoint distortion. The result gives an idea of the image, but doesn’t tend to do them justice. I would normally use public images of the same picture, but few of these seem to have public images available. This page has a link to a catalogue which lists some of the works – along with a accompanying commentary. Featured image: Is my photo of the lake in front of the gallery. The gallery is to the right of the church. I thought it set the scene well.

Small landscape

Thorsteinn Gudmundsson Fra HLID (1817-1864) ; Hjalmhot, 1849; Oil on Canvas; National Gallery of Iceland.

I’m starting with one of my favourite pieces from the exhibition – though not the most dramatic. The accompanying card talks of the artists training and the place of the image in Icelandic art. What I like about the image is the way that the central glow pulls the eye in, and then you gradually move out to see the rest of the image. This effect is visible in the image above, but the translation to a computer image looses much of the effect. The image does partially convey the strange quality of the light in Iceland.

Ink landscape drawing

GYLFI GISLASON (1940-2006); Mountain Sour Milk; Drawing; National Galley of Iceland.

I found this image interesting primarily for the way that the ink has been used to bring out the texture of the rock. The accompanying card talks of the significance of the orange silos from an Aluminium plant, and their ecological significance and impact. I find the use of the orange in an otherwise monochrome image does pull the eye to the Silos, and therefore, denote them as significant. The other references of this image, however, are based in Icelandic art history and so I would have missed them without the explanatory card.

Landscape in water colour

Frederik Theodor Kloss (1802 – 1876); Bruara River;   Water colour

Although listed as a water colour, the look is more of an ink wash, though the same approach is clearly possible with both types of medium. The difference is fairly subtle. I’ve included this partially because I simply like it, and partially because this demonstrates what is possible with this sort of approach once the medium is mastered. This is the sort of quality of outcome I would like to aspire towards. The difference lies very much in observation, subtlety and (of course) practice.


Victor Vasarely (1906-1997); Sorata II (1957); Oil on Wood

I include this piece in the selection because of the abstract pieces that I saw that weekend it is definitely one of the most compelling. As always with abstract works I find it difficult to state what it is that draws me to this image over others. I find the bold yellow-orange-red theme of much of the composition striking and it draws me in. These are colour associated with warmth, and I’ll assert that they are effectively the ground and the other lines seem to be in front of them. The flowing lines remind me of a flowing river or waterfall, though as an abstract I will assume that is my association rather than a meaning intended by the artist.

I found it interesting that on close examination some of the background shows through with no paint on it. That implies he had a process which involved painting to a line, or masking based, rather than layering the paint. This is quite different from some of the American Abstract Expressionists.

Genre painting

Gudmundur Thoesteinsson/Muggur (1891-1924); Coal Carriers in Reykjavik; 1919; Chalk on Paper

I’ve included this image because the atmosphere in it reminds me of the work of Odilon Redon, and some of Käthe Kollwitz. The load of the coal on the women’s backs is clear, and the piece has a dark and brooding atmosphere overall. The work in, in effect, portrayed as back breaking and brutal. In the background, however, is the much lighter beauty of the Icelandic countryside. For a relatively simple drawing the amount of atmosphere and emotion portrayed is impressive.

Landscape in oil

Georg Gudni (1961-2011); Untitled, 1998; Oil on Canvas

This is one of the images where the photograph doesn’t do it justice. The painting has been built up in layers of oil paint which are watered down to give a translucence to the image. This means that the piece rewards attention with additional detail leaking out over an extended time. It is a piece that uses this o build a level of atmosphere and convey the special aspects of thee Icelandic landscape and the transience of light in the region. The card next to the picture describes it as “His works are based on countless moments compressed into one single experience”, which conveys it well.

So, What have I learnt?

Looking at the works in Iceland has given me a lot to think on.  This is the selected ones described above, others in the gallery and the works in other locations around Reykjavik. Part of that follows the themes of the course, such as trying to convey feelings and atmosphere. Some of it can be classed under development of my own discernment and preferences. Lastly there is a heavy dose of “the art of the possible.” The works selected above were chosen to give an idea of the breadth of thought that was fuelled from just on of the locations.

I would almost certainly have taken a different approach to the Assignment 1 image if I hadn’t been considering others artists of late. In particular there was a significant level of influence on the image based on the landscapes and genre paintings described above.

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