The Private Collection
Live registration and exhibition of selected works from the collection of Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir and Þorvaldur Guðmundsson
4.3.2023 — 24.9.2023
At the beginning of 2022, the art collection of Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir and entrepreneur Þorvaldur Guðmundsson was placed in the permanent keeping of the National Gallery of Iceland. The collection, which includes paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, reliefs etc., is one of Iceland’s largest private collections. It comprises about 1400 works by many of Iceland’s leading artists, among them about 400 by Jóhannes S. Kjarval, who was a close friend of the couple. The collection will be registered as part of the National Gallery collection, and the works of art will be digitised on a publicly-accessible database, which will also improve access to them in the context of exhibitions and publications. A workshop and live exhibition has been installed in Gallery 3 on the upper floor of the National Gallery, where visitors can observe the work of the registration team. At the same time a selection of works from the collection are displayed in Gallery 4, with the focus on animals, large and small, in Icelandic nature.
Ptarmigan, year unknown. Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972).
Various factors require consideration when a private collection is subsumed into a public museum collection. Passionate art collecting by a private individual, reflecting their interests, attitudes and circumstances, is subject to other rules and values than acquisitions by a public art museum. Ingibjörg’s and Þorvaldur’s collection boasts many treasures of Icelandic art history, by a large number of the artists who were active in the early decades of the 20th century, as well as younger artists of generations contemporary with the couple. As is manifested in the exhibition, the collection spans a diverse range of outstanding works of art; it also includes pieces by artists who are not among the best-known of their time – works which are rarely seen, and have not been acquired by public collections. In addition the exhibition includes works and objects which are not considered artworks, but nonetheless played a part in the passion for collecting, such as figurines of pigs which were collected for many years by the pig-farmer Þorvaldur.
Ingibjörg and Þorvaldur felt that as many people as possible should have the opportunity to enjoy the art they collected – in their home as well as in their workplaces, most noticeably at Hotel Holt, where the couple combined their interest in the hotel business and in art. In the National Gallery café visitors can watch an interview with Geirlaug, daughter of Ingibjörg and Þorvaldur, who talks about the works of art on the ground floor of the hotel that provide a splendid cross-section of modern Icelandic art from the first half of the 20th century, and for more than half a century have been delighting art-lovers who visit the hotel. In the context of the hotel, private collection and “public” exhibition have overlapped; the story of the couple’s art collecting incorporates and highlights the spirit of social responsibility and idealism that characterised generations of ambitious entrepreneurs who made their mark on Icelandic society in tumultuous times before and around the middle of the last century.
4.3.2023 — 24.9.2023
Exhibition Project Manager
Vigdís Rún Jónsdóttir
Technical Supervision, Photography and Recordings
Guðrún Jóna Halldórsdóttir
Events and Educational Programme
In 1944, the year of the foundation of the modern Republic of Iceland, Þorvaldur Guðmundsson opened a shop, Síld og fiskur (literally Herring and Fish) on Bergstaðastræti in Reykjavík, where the couple would later build Hotel Holt. Þorvaldur was one of Iceland’s largest-scale entrepreneurs, and a pioneer in the field of food processing, including e.g. fish-canning. The couple’s collection includes a considerable number of works that relate to the fisheries, seamanship, the ocean, fish processing and life on the docks. Among them are pieces by Ásmundur Sveinsson, Eiríkur Smith, Gunnlaugur Blöndal, Jóhannes S. Kjarval and Kristín Jónsdóttir, and several works by Faroese artists Ingálv av Reyni and Mikines. Many of the works thus testify to the collectors’ and artists’ interest in people employed in this line of work and their daily surroundings. These works are on display in Gallery 3, where registration of the collection is being carried out at the eastern end of the space.
The exhibition in room 3 was extended until September 24th 2023.
Still Life with Apples and a Vase, 1924, Þórarinn B. Þorláksson
Þorvaldur was a pioneer of modern pig-farming in Iceland: in 1954 he established one of Iceland’s largest and most sophisticated pig farms at Minni-Vatnsleysa in the southwest. Pigs make an appearance in various works in the collection, along with horses, cows and hens, in works that evoke the old rural society in which domestic animals play a major role in the relationship between humans and nature. These works are by such artists as Ásgrímur Jónsson, Halldór Pétursson, Jón Stefánsson, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Ragnar Kjartansson (the elder), Sigurlaug Jónasdóttir and Sveinn Þórarinsson. Also on display are scenes of rural life by foreign artists, acquired by the couple on their travels abroad. Birds appear in works by Höskuldur Björnsson, Ísleifur Konráðsson and Þórarinn B. Þorláksson, for example – not forgetting Kjarval’s bird pictures; in Kjarval’s art animals often have a poetic significance. Fish and wild mammals such as whales, seal and reindeer are the subjects of works by Finnur Jónsson, Guðmundur of Miðdalur and Jón Engilberts, as well as a spectacular work by Gunnlaugur Scheving of a codfish on the borders separating civilisation and wild nature.
Ingibjörg’s and Þorvaldur’s collection includes a number of works in which animals are prominent.
The works in the exhibition display symbolic manifestations of the interaction between humanity and the animal kingdom. With recent developments in art and culture, growing interest has been manifested in examining the relationship between humans and animals, inter alia in light of the fact that the human is an animal species, and in the context of re-evaluation of humanity’s place in nature at a time of climate change arising from industrialisation and global warming. In such re-evaluation the emphasis has often been on the perspective of nature, including animals. A painting which at first sight appears to be primarily a landscape depicting a well-known site in Iceland, in which a few animals feature, may also be viewed as a portrayal of the environment and home territory of animal species. And that raises the question of what may have happened to their home territories. By the same token, works that testify to the strong bond between humanity and nature in Iceland may remind us how that bond has been broken. Thus artistic presentation of animals may provide insight into the cultural factors that inform our understanding of animals.
In art history there is a long tradition of visual presentation of animals.
Spring (The Unfinished Symphony, ca. 1935. Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972)
Ásgrímur Jónsson, Ásmundur Sveinsson, C.M. Tegner, E. Helgason, Eggert Guðmundsson, Einar G. Baldvinsson, Eiríkur Smith, Finnur Jónsson, Gísli Jónsson, Guðmundur Karl Ásbjörnsson, Guðmundur Einarsson frá Miðdal, Gunnlaugur Blöndal, Gunnlaugur Scheving, Halldór Pétursson, Hans Lynge, Höskuldur Björnsson, Ingálvur av Reyni, Jóhann Briem, Jóhannes S. Kjarval, Jóhannes Geir Jónsson, Jón Gunnar Árnason, Jón Benediktsson, Jón Engilberts, Jón Gunnarsson, Jón Stefánsson, Kjartan Guðjónsson, Kristín Jónsdóttir, Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Magnús Jónsson, Muggur – Guðmundur Thorsteinsson, Nína Tryggvadóttir, Ragnar Kjartansson (eldri), Sámal Joensen-Mikines, Sigurlaug Jónasdóttir, Sveinn Þórarinsson, Tryggvi Ólafsson, Veturliði Gunnarsson, Walter Bengtsson, Þorvaldur Skúlason, Þórarinn B. Þorláksson, Örlygur Sigurðsson