The Thought of Drawing

Drawings by Kjarval in the art collection of Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir and Þorvaldur Guðmundsson

17.6.2023 — 1.10.2023

National Gallery of Iceland
Kjarval, Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885–1972),
Hugsun um teikninguna / The Thought of the Drawing, 1944,
Túsk á pappír / Tusch on paper,
Listasafn Íslands / National Gallery of Iceland
Listaverkasjóður Þorvaldar Guðmundssonar og Ingibjargar Guðmundsdóttur, 

The art collection of Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir and Þorvaldur Guðmundsson includes about 300 drawings on paper by Jóhannes S. Kjarval. The selection of works for the exhibition, which spans the artist’s entire career and his principal subjects – portrait, landscape and nature themes, and fantasies – was guided by the principle of diversity in material and technique. On display are works of art made with pencil, ink, charcoal, wax crayons, watercolour and oils, on a range of support materials.

Drawing is integral to Kjarval’s entire oeuvre, and is in fact central to his expression, and to his creative thinking and exploration of reality and imagination that it entails. Kjarval was an extraordinarily gifted draughtsman, and at an early age he realised the importance of drawing and its close relationship with perception, the creative process, and inner life. He was indefatigable in his experiments with different materials and methods. Drawing was for him a dynamic way to grasp and express his surroundings, impel new forms and ideas, capture the stream of memories and imagination, and to work through the influence of different artistic trends. In his drawings Kjarval was thinking out loud.

In a work from 1944, Hugsun um teikninguna (The Thought of Drawing), Kjarval has written in the lower left corner: “In drawing, the thought of drawing is whether it is drawn rightly or wrongly.” In the picture, which is characterised by flowing lines, two human figures are seen in an enigmatic landscape. Art historian Æsa Sigurjónsdóttir has pointed out that Kjarval’s reflections relate to ideas about the artist’s role of applying intuition in order to interpret reality, rather than simply imitating it, thus illuminating that which is invisible to others. As British aestheticist John Ruskin wrote: “… some people see only things that exist, and others see things that do not exist, or do not exist apparently. And if they really see these non-apparent things, they are quite right to draw them.” And Kjarval said in a press interview in 1945:

Look! You can say, from me, that while people may think my pictures are ideas, that is absolutely not the case. To tell the truth, it is so incredible what one sometimes sees in the landscape. It would be very hard for any composer of pictures to convince himself that he was trying to do the right thing based on his own idea, rather than working with his vision of the landscape – and seeking to imitate it. Seeing is always more vital than any narrative construct – and it is always more remarkable than what the artist could imagine. If there is something right or wrong in making pictures, I would have no idea, in certain circumstances, whether I should draw what I see with my worldly eyes, or something that came to my mind as I saw.

Behind the sensitive and dynamic drawing in Kjarval’s art – from scraps of paper scribbled in ink to his refined line drawing in oil paintings – lies a fruitful coalescence of the vision and thinking of this unique artist.

This exhibition is part of the process of registration of the art collection of Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir and Þorvaldur Guðmundsson, which has been placed in the permanent keeping of the National Gallery of Iceland. Work is in progress to place the works in digital form on a database which will be accessible to the public.



17.6.2023 1.10.2023

Curated by

Anna Jóhannsdóttir

Exhibition Project Manager

Vigdís Rún Jónsdóttir


Anna Jóhannsdóttir

Events and Educational Programme

Ragnheiður Vignisdóttir

Technical Supervision, Photography and Recordings

Sigurður Gunnarsson


Guðrún Jóna Halldórsdóttir

Conservation Manager

Steinunn Harðardóttir


Indriði Ingólfsson

Ísleifur Kristinsson

Steinunn Harðardóttir

Treasures of Icelandic Art

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