This is just a short mini-blog to look at a twentieth century Impressionist from Iceland, Ásgrímur Jónsson
Ásgrímur Jónsson wasat the forefront of Icelandic art. He was a pioneer of Icelandic visual art and the first Icelander to become a professional painter. Ásgrímur was born on March 4th, 1876, in Suðurkot, a small town thirty kilometres south west of Reykjavik.
In 1897 he left home and went to Copenhagen. In 1900, aged twenty-four, he enrolled on a three-year art course at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Once qualified, he toured a number of European countries before settling back down in Iceland in 1910. On his journey home he visited Germany and the cities of Berlin and Weimar and it was during this period that he became influenced by the French Impressionists and the Post Impressionists, especially the landscape works of the French painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
Ásgrímur’s main painting genre was landscape art and especially that of his native Iceland and through his art many native artists would follow his lead. His depictions of nature were fashioned by the romance of the nineteenth century. He liked to focus his depictions on the changes of light and how it altered the view of the land. He alternated between watercolours and oils but is best known for the former medium.
He was a great believer in Naturalism in art – the broad movement in the nineteenth century which represented things closer to the way we see them. However later his works were characterised by colourful expressionism.
Ásgrímur also worked as a pioneer in the illustration of Icelandic legends and adventures. He pictorially depicted Icelandic Folk Legends delving into the world of elves and trolls who lived in the semi-darkness of the old turf farmhouse and who would kidnap humans. Tales of pastors haunting their wives-to-be, of witches flying to Satanic gatherings, of sheep-rustling and flying bulls. A land where humans live inside hills, where witches flying on jawbones instead of broomsticks, and tales which rarely have happy endings.
Ásgrímur’s works on folklore themes were well received. The art critics delighted in his depictions and that Iceland’s folktale heritage was being addressed, for the first time, by an Icelandic artist. Ásgrímur’s depictions of the appearance of elves and trolls also met with widespread approval from the public who believed he had succeeded in capturing the way that they imagined their folklore characters to be. For Ásgrímur Jónsson it was all about the viewer’s own imagination when they looked at these folklore works and it was a reminder of the beauty of their land when they looked at his landscape paintings. Today the folklore paintings form part of the unique cultural heritage conserved in the collections of the National Gallery of Iceland.
Ásgrímur Jónsson died on April 5th, 1958, aged 82. The Ásgrímur Jónsson’s collection, which is today a department within the National Gallery of Iceland, originated in 1960 when a small gallery was opened in Ásgrímur’s studio and home, which he bequeathed to the Icelandic nation along with all of his works in his own possession upon his death.