Kjarval and the 20th Cent­ury: When Modernity Anchored

Paintings in a gallery.

Kjarval and the 20th Century: When Modernity Anchored



In this exhibition, you can see artworks by Icelandic artists that span approximately six decades following the turn of the 20th century.

These works extend across the period during which the painter Jóhannes S. Kjarval was active. In examining Kjarval's journey, and comparing it to the works of his contemporaries, it is possible to see the various ways art changes and evolves. The prevailing spirit of each era is reflected in differing shifts in style, and the artworks provide insight into the artists' inspirations, their surroundings and circumstances. Initially, a romantic view of nature predominated, but symbolism soon after made its way into the narrative, and the first steps were taken towards breaking away from naturalistic imagery.

Kjarval was born in 1885 and died in 1972. Between these points in time lies a significant period in cultural history and global society. This was a period of profound social transformation, industrialisation, urban development and technological advancement. Icelandic artists traveled abroad for education, returned home with fresh ideas, and were inspired by the currents and movements they encountered in Europe. In this sense, artists truly are not isolated islands in world history, but rather engage with various circumstances, innovations, revolutions and conflicts through their works.

Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval, Sjálfsmynd, um 1920.
Jóhannes S. Kjarval, Ofar skýjum, 1967.

As contemporary values embedded themselves in Icelandic society, the subjects and methods of artists evolved. Traditional artistic boundaries were shattered, and abstraction found its place. The then present era left its mark on Icelandic society, as is evident in the progress and diversity of artists' creative endeavors, and in the lifelong work of Kjarval.

In 1973, a year following Kjarval's death, Kjarvalsstaðir was inaugurated and named in his honor. Kjarval is one of the most beloved artists of the nation and his works have been exhibited here for half a century. Kjarval‘s works and those of other artists in this exhibition come from the collection of Reykjavik Art Museum, with the exception of Kjarval's famous Mountain Milk (Fjallamjólk), one of the artist's most renowned pieces, which is currently on loan from ASÍ Art Museum.

Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval, Fjallamjólk, 1941.