Greinasafni: Söfn
A Sculptor for the Nation

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The Spirit of Iceland revealed through sculpture and art at the Einar Jónsson Museum
Just as the human spirit gives life to flesh and bone, Einar Jónsson’s imagination has given form to Icelandic folklore and culture. Born in 1874 on a farm in Galtafell, South Iceland, Einar evinced early talent as a child. Though the son of farmers, his knack for reproducing ideas from his imagination took him to Europe in adolescence. In 1901, Einar emerged from his studies at Copenhagen’s Royal Academy of Arts to take his place in the international art scene, winning acclaim after showing his sculpture ‘Outlaws’ at an official exhibition.
Einar spent several years in Europe and honed his craft by joining a radical group of Danish sculptors and participating in the emerging philosophical discourse about the individual and role of the artist. He staunchly refused to compromise his creativity by copying the styles of cultures surrounding him and stayed true to his country by drawing from his innate knowledge of Iceland’s rich literary heritage and folklore replete with imagery. This led his work to develop a character of its own and helped pave the way for sculpture in Iceland.
Einar Jónsson is frequently compared to old Icelandic skalds, or poets, who imbued their descriptions of daily life with elaborate two part similes, “playing the melodies of human life on the stringed instrument on nature”. Interaction between man and nature, as well as the mutual influence of one upon the other, were considered integral parts of life. Sculptures such as “The Wave of the Ages” (Alda aldanna), which personifies the figure of an immense woman with her chin stretching towards the sky, capture Jónsson’s tendency to reflect humanity in nature’s rawness. The base of the sculpture swirls with bodies writhing in the wake of the wave, with one valiant person emerging to persevere through nature’s hardships. Taken literally, it is representative of Icelanders’ perpetual struggle with the elements, but on a symbolic level it represents the pursuit of something higher and that those who struggle to remove themselves from the milieu are rewarded.
Turning the transcendental tangible, Einar Jónsson’s work tackles universals. Time, that tricky and often elusive beast, has evaded many artists for ages. In “Time” Einar Jónsson has encircled the old Norse figure of time, winged and carrying a globe on his shoulders, between the beautiful youth of day holding a sphere in one hand as he receives a wreath from a lovely young woman, night. Icelandic poetry refers to time as rolling days, injecting the motions of time’s passage into verse. “Time” pinpoints the rolling days in a languid split second, a brief pause before he continues to frantically beat his wings and compel life onwards.
After a career studded with worldwide accomplishments and travel, Einar Jónsson vowed to return home and donate all of his work to Iceland if a proper place was built to house it. This led to the creation of the Einar Jónsson Museum, which stands in its original spot, close to is Hallgrímskirkja  in Reykjavik. When built in 1916, that part of the city was undeveloped and the house was in the midst of land considered undesirable because its sandy soil remained barren. The artist lived in the house and pictures at the museum show Einar Jónsson proudly standing near his home soon after its completion. Einar lived in the upper floor of the museum and used the basement as a work space. The museum allows visitors not only to look at a retrospective of Einar’s work, but peer into his personal life and final home. Though a world traveller, his heart was never far from his beloved Iceland, which he memorialised in his monuments and sculptures, giving us valuable insight into the heart and mind of a visual poet.

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