Kjarval and the pioneers
The exhibition Kjarval and the Pioneers is a collection of landscape and still life paintings that give an overview on the early interests of painters who are among those known to have a role in the history of modern art in Iceland. Modern painting only sprouted in Iceland at the turn of twentieth century and it is also around that time that painters started to demonstrate determination and ambition in pursuing painting as a profession seriously. All the painters who are featured in the exhibition made their first sojourns to Copenhagen to study art and eventually started their careers as artists. In records on exhibitions in Iceland, the first solo show in Reykjavík was held in 1900 by Þórarinn B Þorlásson (1867 – 1924), and Ásgrimmur Jónsson (1876 – 1958) had his in 1903. When young Jóhannes S Kjarval (1885 – 1972) decided to study art in the 1900s, he approached both Þórarinn and Ásgrimmur and took lessons from them. It was also around the period when Kjarval started to study painting that Jón Stefánsson (1881 – 1962) made his journey from Denmark to Paris to study under Henri Matisse. Among the pioneers are two women artists – Kristín Jónsdóttir (1888 – 1959) and Júlíana Sveinsdóttir (1889 – 1996).
At the beginning while most painters started with the notion of depicting nature and culture faithfully as the way they saw it, it did not take long for many of them to realize their strengths as artists, and they proceeded to project their artistic personalities into their paintings through ideas and techniques. This led to a change in the traditional perception of art in Iceland and presented opportunities for artists to express themselves in tandem with their peers in other European cities. This change is revealed through the selection of Kjarval’s paintings that are presented throughout the exhibition.
The Reykjavík Art Museum – Kjarvalsstaðir is named in honor of the artist Jóhannes S Kjarval for his generous donations of his drawings and paintings to the city of Reykjavík in 1968. Since the inauguration of the building in 1973, the museum has dedicated the East wing gallery to exhibitions of Kjarval’s works in various formats.