Flight from volcanic eruptions – sketches and paintings by Ásgrímur Jónsson

Ásgrímur Jónsson

13.1.2024 — 14.4.2024

The House of Collections

For Ásgrímur Jónsson (1876–1958), volcanic eruptions and people fleeing from natural disasters were important themes, that recur in many of his works. The oldest dated works are from 1904, while the majority of his eruption pictures were made in 1945–57. These number between 50 and 60 images: large paintings, watercolours, as well as numerous drawings, many of which are sketches for the paintings. The works invariably depict terrified people and their farm animals in the foreground, fleeing from a volcanic eruption in the background. Chaos reigns, and spectacular colourplay intensifies the terror depicted by Ásgrímur. As a child the artist had experienced an eruption of Krakatindur, east of Mt. Hekla, with accompanying earthquakes. In his memoirs he recounts that, following the eruption, he realised that peril and the sublime were integral elements of life of earth. He later witnessed eruptions of Mt. Hekla and Mt. Katla, and under the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. His volcano pictures are believed to have been inspired by the Mt. Katla eruption in 1918, while no doubt he was also influenced by accounts of earlier natural disasters. On level 4 is a small watercolour of a volcanic eruption in Sicily, made in 1908; in his memoirs the artist recalls that he began making eruption pictures in 1908, during a winter he spent in Italy.

Ásgrímur Jónsson was a master of both oils and watercolours, and in many cases his watercolours were later developed into larger oil paintings, such as the watercolour Flight from an Eruption from the 1940s. The Ásgrímur Jónsson collection includes three oil paintings with that title, along with many drawings and sketches that depict the same theme. The works on paper have the freshness of sketches, and a sense of immediacy, which may be lost to some extent when the theme is developed in oils. Nonetheless the oil paintings possess an expressive dramatic impact which is reminiscent of the expressionistic approach seen in Ásgrímur‘s landscape paintings from Húsafell, west Iceland, at the same period. The eruption works also display a close affinity with the artist’s works on folklore themes from that time, and their portrayal of human fear in face of the forces of nature. The works in the exhibition all share the quality that the artist provides an insight into a plane of existence on the boundary of imagination and reality, as a testimony to the transience of life.

The Ásgrímur Jónsson collection includes a number of oil paintings which are classified as incomplete, few of which have been displayed before. Among them is Eruption (1955-56), which was catalogued as incomplete in 1958, shortly before the artist’s death. This work may be said to bring together the spectacular expression of the oil paintings and the rapid, fresh approach of the sketches and watercolours – thus providing an unexpected insight into the artist’s innermost self and his creative process.

Flight from volcanic eruptions – sketches and paintings by Ásgrímur Jónsson



13.1.2024 14.4.2024

Exhibition Project Manager

Vigdís Rún Jónsdóttir

Events and Educational Programme

Ragnheiður Vignisdóttir


Dororthée Kirch

Technical Supervision, Photography and Recordings

Sigurður Gunnarsson

Conservation Manager

Steinunn Harðardóttir


Ísleifur Kristinsson

Steinunn Harðardóttir

Treasures of Icelandic Art

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