Icelandic Art 1900-1950: From Landscape to Abstract Art

Icelandic Art 1900-1950: From Landscape to Abstract Art

Icelandic Art 1900-1950: From Landscape to Abstract Art



The exhibition gives an overview of Icelandic art from 1900-1950. It brings about 200 paintings from 40 artists from this period. The exhibition focuses on four subjects: Romantic and Radical 1900-1930, Landscape 1930-1950, The Human Scale 1930-1950 and New radicalism and the beginning of the abstract 1940–1950.

Curator is Ólafur Kvaran. Romantic and Radical 1900–1930 In the early years of the twentieth century, art in Iceland was in a state of flux, just as it was in mainland Europe. Many new artists embarked on their careers at this time.

An indication of the artistic ferment of those years is that two major exhibitions were held in Reykjavík in 1930, when the Icelanders celebrated the millennium of the foundation of the Alþingi (parliament). A total of thirty-one artists showed over 450 works. Landscape 1930–1950 Landscape – the pure landscape without human presence – was the quintessential theme of Icelandic artists in the early years of the 20th century, and 1930 heralded a new flourishing of diverse landscape art.

In the discourse the landscape came to signify all that was Icelandic, as well as being a depiction of nature.

The landscape was seen as an important foundation for the duties of the artist towards his/her nation. Iceland had gained sovereign status in 1918 after centuries of Danish rule, and a sense of national identity was cherished and nurtured in the following years, culminating in the foundation of the modern Republic in 1944. The Human Scale 1930–1950 At the same time as Icelandic artists were focussing on the landscape as a theme, in the 1930s many of them were also turning their attention to the human figure and his/her surroundings.

Those were times of change in Icelandic society: people were migrating in their thousands from rural Iceland into towns and villages; and many were hard hit by the Great Depression, especially farmers, the working class and the poor. Artists, both young and old, addressed this new social reality, and many adopted a more subjective approach in order to bring out the Zeitgeist. A new generation of artists, making their debut around 1930, had drunk in international artistic trends such as Expressionism and late Cubism. Artists applied new aesthetic principles in their depiction of the themes, e.g. with respect to the role of colour and form. New radicalism and the beginning of the abstract 1940–1950 During World War II (1939-45) Iceland was largely cut off from mainland Europe.

A non-combatant nation in the war, Iceland was occupied first by British and then by US troops. Many young artists, who might otherwise have gone to Europe to study, went instead to the United States, where they came into contact with many avant-garde European artists in exile. Back in Iceland, established artists continued to develop their art, and important shows were held which expressed radical philosophies. With the September exhibitions of the late 1940s, a new generation made its mark, with new and radical ideas about the role and importance of visual art. Programme Every Fridays at 11 a.m. in June, July and August Guided tour in English. Sunday 9 June 3 p.m. Curator´s talk with Ólafur Kvaran. Sunday 23 June 3 p.m. Guided tour and workshop for the family..

Images of exhibition