• Jón Stefánsson, Sumarnótt



  • 7.4.2017 - 30.9.2020, Listasafn Íslands

In the exhibition Treasures of a Nation a selection of works from the collection displays the evolution of art in Iceland from the beginning of the twentieth century. The main preoccupation of Icelandic painters until the 1940s was Icelandic nature, which since the dawn of the century had symbolized all that was quintessentially Icelandic: the light and wide open spaces of Icelandic nature were what these artists considered most beautiful of all. Outstanding examples of this are paintings by Þórarinn B. Þorláksson and Ásgrímur Jónsson while other dominating painters, Jóhannes S. Kjarval and Jón Stefánsson introduced the language of modernism. They both had a decisive impact on the evolution of Icelandic art in their respective ways and set a precedent for the technique and coloration adopted by many later painters.

In the 1930s a clear distinction can be discerned between two divergent subjects in Icelandic art. On the one hand there were landscapes by established painters, and on the other was a more introspective generation who examined their immediate environment and endowed it with spiritual qualities on the canvas. These artists' subjects often differed widely and their techniques and coloration were akin to those of the expressionists on the continent and in Scandinavia between the wars. Ordinary Icelandic fishermen and rural people were common subjects, along with scenes from urban life.

During World War Two and in particular, in the years after it, abstract art cut its path into Icelandic art history. The new course that Icelandic art took then reflects how closely Icelandic artists whatched the art movements that were sweeping the continent at this time. Svavar Guðnason was the first Icelandic painter to adopt abstract-expressionist language, whereby artists expressed their own experiences and emotions on the canvas with abstract colours and forms, at the end of the 1930s. Guðnason held the first exhibition exclusively devoted to abstract art in Iceland immediately after the end of the war in 1945. That exhibition would exert a powerful influence on coming generations of artists who opted to follow of abstraction.

Image: Jón Stefánsson Summer Night; Red-throated Divers by River Thjórsá, 1929.