Jóhannes S. Kjarval: From Abroad
Jóhannes Sveinsson Kjarval (1885-1972) is one of Iceland’s most revered artists, his paintings and interpretations of Icelandic nature are pivotal in the history of culture and art in the country. Lava, moss, rivers and mountains around the country were a constant source of inspiration for him to create new work, he is said to have drawn people’s attention to new aspects of Icelandic nature.
In spite of Kjarval’s unswerving connection to the landscape in Iceland, he also travelled widely and painted abroad. He studied in Denmark and spent time in London, Italy and France. He was very interested in getting to know key works in international cultural history first-hand and learning latest trends in contemporary art.
The works in this exhibition were all painted outside Iceland.
In 1911, a long-awaited dream came true when Kjarval went to London on his first trip abroad. For years he had struggled to be able to study outside Iceland but could never afford it. Members of the Reykjavík Youth Association stepped in and held a lottery where one of Kjarval’s paintings was the prize. All profits from the lottery went to Kjarval’s travel fund. In an interview, Kjarval had this to say about his journey: “But the day when I received the 800 isk, I went aboard a trawler and sailed straight to London. I couldn’t imagine visiting a smaller city, once I finally got going.”
He stayed in London for around three months and was greatly influenced by many things there. He went to museums, read a lot and became acquainted with all the latest trends in the big city.
From London, Kjarval travelled to Copenhagen, where he lived until 1922. He studied at The Technical Society’s School and The Royal Art Academy, thus receiving the professional art education he had long desired.
In Denmark, Kjarval painted many of his better-known works, such as Icelandic Artists at the Tree of Knowledge and Forest Palace, both of which belong to The National Gallery of Iceland’s collection, as well as many paintings of Danish vegetation, woods and streets.
In 1920, Kjarval was awarded a grant to travel to Rome. He set off with his wife Tove in the spring and travelled around Italy until autumn. Apart from Rome, he visited Florence, Tivoli, Amalfi and Ravello, among other places. He was very industrious in Italy and brought back to Copenhagen numerous artworks, largely water colours and brush drawings. From Rome, he wrote a letter to his friend and college, Einar Jónsson, where he claimed to have been captivated by three things: Paintings by Titian, Michelangelo’s mural of Doomsday in the Sistine Chapel, and the Roman ruins.
The work which Kjarval created in Italy and upon his return are clearly influenced by the trip, among them are Divina Comedia and Pantheon, as well as many images of Italian urban landscape and portraits.
Kjarval moved to Iceland in 1922 but in January 1928 he took another long-awaited trip, this time to France, where he spent six months. He had a studio in Paris and also stayed in Fontainebleau Forest outside the city. There, he painted a series of French woodland paintings. Altogether, he is said to have created fifteen paintings in France and brought fourteen of them to Iceland.
A year after his stay in France, Kjarval reached a turning point in his career, when he decided to focus on Icelandic landscape and paint outdoors, “protecting the whole of nature” as he put it. So, the works in this exhibition are all painted before 1929, during the first part of his career, and they cast a new light on Kjarval’s formative years and his influencers. The exhibition contains works from those places outside Iceland where he stayed the longest and painted the most; London, Denmark, Italy and France.