The journey of a pioneer

Asmundur Sveinsson museum.jpgIn Reykjavik, Iceland, there is an eerily white building with an apparently somewhat far-fetched architecture. It stands in a garden full of large, strange and not-so-strange sculptures and when you walk inside, it is light as the daylight filters through the geometrically-shaped windows and falls on yet more, but smaller sculptures. The building and the sculptures are a reflection of the journey made by its architect and the sculptor: Àsmundur Sveinsson, one of the pioneers of Icelandic sculpture.


Àsmundur Sveinsson – 1893-1982

Àsmundur Sveinsson is born on 20 May 1893 in Kolsstadir, a farm in the remote district of Dalasysla, west Iceland. His early life is spent far away from Reykjavik, not to mention the realm of world art and this would continue until he turns 22 as he works on the farm, tending sheep and the like since childhood.  While literature is held in high regard in this small rural community, there are few visual images. Yet Àsmundur would go on to become a great sculptor…

His real journey begins as he comes to the realisation that he isn’t really cut out to be tending to the family sheep but rather enjoys woodwork and his thoughts turn to making figurative sculptures. His young life yields eight such sculptures although two are now lost. But the remaining ones include Viking “Fridthjófur the Valiant” , a falcon and a swan, all made of wood in 1913-14, as well as the plaster sculpture “The Maid of the Mountains”(1910-15), showing the 19th century independence movement leader, Jón Sigurdsson, handing the flag of freedom to the Maid of the Mountains, i.e. Iceland. However, his early ambitions do not stretch further than being a wood carver – perhaps as he thinks being a sculptor is too high a goal for a boy who isn’t even any good at farming. In his later life, he says: “It occurred to me at an early age that I ought to learn woodcarving, but I did not dare my sights higher. If I had said that I wanted to become a sculptor, I would have been laughed at.” At the time, sculpture is quite new in Iceland and pretty much embodied by Bertil Thorvaldsen, half-Icelandic via his father but living in Denmark, and Einar Jónsson, who spent two decades abroad before settling in Iceland again.

The Kiss by Asmundur Sveinsson

“The Kiss” –  Àsmundur Sveinsson (1922)

So, on 17 October 1915, he leaves Kolsstadir for the first time for Reykjavík to ask for an apprenticeship with the country’s foremost woodcarver, Stefan Eiriksson. However, he is refused and starts as an apprentice with Ríkhardur Jónsson a week later. During the 1915-16 winter he works on woodcarving for eight months and six weeks on modelling as well as attending the Technical College. There he is admitted straight into the second year and studies spatial drawing with Thórarinn B Thorlàksson as well as Icelandic, Danish and mathematics. He studies freehand drawing at the extramural department of the college. In June 1918 he completes his apprenticeship after completing his studies at the Technical College. One year later he qualifies as a master woodcarver with merit following the successful completion of his master piece, an elaborately carved wooden chair.

The farmer’s son of Kolsstadir, emboldened by his newly-attained status and hungry for more knowledge and skill, then takes his next leap and leaves for Denmark, where he enrols at Copenhagen’s Technical College after a visit to the Kunst Museum, the national gallery. He meets up with Einar Jónsson, one of Iceland’s few but well-regarded sculptors of the time, who becomes his mentor and advises him to make the most of Copenhagen’s art collections. At the Glyptotek Ny-Carlsberg he is introduced to the works of great French sculptors Rodin, Maillol and Despiau, who would influence his later output.  Meanwhile, his courses at the college enable him to improve his freehand and perspective drawing skills in preparation for the entrance exam of the Academy.

Helreidinby Asmundur SveinssonHowever, in terms of learning sculpture he finds the Danish college rather unhelpful and in 1920 he decides to move to Stockholm, Sweden, and hoping to take instruction from the well-known Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, enrol at the Academy there. In addition to Milles’ modelling course, the painter Olle Hjortzberg teaches him drawing, Knut Kjellberg anatomy and Johanny Roosval lectures on art history – all excellent teachers, which resulted in a very productive academic year. Milles’ influence can be clearly seen in his work “Northern Lights”, which holds images representative ancient and later Icelandic culture. In the following academic year, he carves a fountain in marble, “Mermaid” (1922) for which he is awarded the Academy’s silver medal. Apart from a brief stay in Germany, where he would visit several museums in Berlin, Dresden and Munich, he would remain in Stockholm until 1926.

Modir Jord by Asmundur Sveinsson

Modir Jord (Mother Earth) –  Àsmundur Sveinsson (1934)

The next leg of his journey takes him to Paris, where he visits the many art galleries and museums and spends a lot of time drawing during the three years that he resides in the city. During this time, he also spends three months travelling in Italy and Greece to visit yet more museums and art galleries. After an 11-year odyssey in Europe he returns to Iceland in 1929.

Àsmundur Sveinsson dies 9 December 1982 in Reykjavik.

To see more works of Àsmundur Sveinsson, check out The Gallery.


Mary Cassat – Mothers and children

USA * 1845-1926


Born on 22 May 1845 in Allegheny City, near Pittsburgh (PA), USA, Mary Cassat rates as one of the most important 19th century US artists. She was raised in a comfortable upper-middle-class family and her father was a successful stockbroker while her mother was part of a prosperous banking family. From 1851-55 the family lived in France and Germany, enabling Mary to get a flavour of European arts and culture.

In 1860 she began two years of study at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and five years later, she asked her parents to allow her to continue her artistic training abroad. She moved to Europe to study the works of the great masters of The Netherlands, Italy, Spain and France before settling in Paris, France, in 1874. While she exhibited in the Salon in 1872 and subsequent years, her work was rejected in 1877 and she then devoted herself to creating impressionist works. She exhibited with the Impressionists as the only US artist and her talent was recognised by the likes of Edgar Degas.

Mary Cassat - Sleeping baby 1910

“The Sleeping Baby” – Mary Cassat (1910)

In 1891 there was a shift in her subject matter as she painted increasingly works of mothers and their children, for which she was ultimately known.

In terms of technique, her work combined the light colours and loose brushwork of Impressionism with compositions influenced by European Old Masters as well as Japanese art. Her love of Japanese art was particularly noticeable in paintings such as “The Child’s Bath” (1893).

Mary Cassat - The child's bath - 1893

“The Child’s Bath” – Mary Cassat (1893)

In addition to her artistry as a painter, Mary Cassat was also skilled in colourful wood cuts such as “Morning routine” (1886). Her versatility helped her to establish professional success at a time when very few women were recognised as serious artists.

However, her career as a visual artist came to an end in 1914 due to an eye disease. She died on 14 June 1926 in Mesnil-Théribus, France.

Berthe M P Morisot – The female touch of Impressionism

France * 1841-1895
Berthe Marie Pauline Morisot as born on 14 January 1841 in Bourges near Cher, France. Her father, Edmé Tiburce Morisot was the prefect of the Deparment of Cher while her mother, Marie Joséphine Cornélie Thomas was the great niece of Rococo painter Jean Honoré Fragonard and hence her family can be easily described as affluent.

In 1857 she was introduced to the Louvre museum and one year later, she copied paintings from the museum’s vast collection. Her work at the Louvre enabled her to befriend other artists such as Camille Corot who not only gained fame as a landscape painter of the Barbizon School but was also gifted in figure painting. Under Corot’s influence, Morisot took up painting en plein air. She also studied under Achille Oudinot and even ventured into sculpture with Aimé Millet, although none of her sculpture is known to survive.

Berthe Morisot-The Cradle-1872

The Cradle – Berthe Morisot (1872)

In 1864 she held her first exhibition in the prestigious Salon de Paris, entering two landscape paintings, and took part in the six subsequent exhibitions. Her mature career began in 1872 when she sold 22 of her paintings to art dealer Durand-Ruel. Married to Eugène Manet (brother of Edouard Manet) in 1877, who she had befriended in 1868, she became a member of the Impressionists and one of the leading female painters in the movement, along Marie Bracquemond and Mary Cassatt.

In 1874 she joined the “Rejected”, impressionists which held their own exhibitions such as Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas and Alfred Sisley. However, Berthe Morisot continued to gain recognition. She stayed in London and the Isle of Wight in 1875 where she studied JMW Turner and painted seascapes. Durand-Ruel included three of her works in the 1883 London exhibition and three years later, she exhibited in America. Her works were also on show in the Salon XX in Brussels, Paris. However, her first solo exhibition was not until 1892, when she displayed 43 works in Paris.


The artist’s daughter and her nanny – Berthe Morisot (1884)

In terms of her works, these are often small-scale. She not only worked in oil, but also water colours, pastel and various drawing media.  From 1880 her brushwork became looser and longer as she started painting on unprimed canvases. Following the death of Manet in 1883, her work moved to a style more comparable with Renoir. Works include “The artist’s daughter and her nanny” (1884) and “In the dining room” (1886).

Morisot died on 2 March 1895 in Paris after contracting pneumonia.

Wild about tigers

Tiger Tiger by xx-Horsham Museum-2 Dec 2017In one of the smaller rooms in Horsham Museum currently runs a modest but interesting photo exhibition until 3 February 2018. Tiger Tiger displays a small but beautiful and endearing collection of photographs by local amateur photographer Michael Vickers.

Capturing scenes of tenderness and power alike, the photos reflect his love for these powerful felines. The exhibition reflects his personal bond with a number of individuals, all part of a few tiger families found on his travels through India. For instance, there is the two-year-old male from Ranthambore in “The Eye of the Tiger” (see photo).

Tiger Tiger by xx-Horsham Museum-2 Dec 2017-photoCR

The Eye of the Tiger by Michael Vickers

The exhibition is well worth a visit and perhaps you will be tempted to buy one of the beautiful prints that are available. All net profits from the sale of his photographs are heading to the charity Tiger Awareness.  More information can be found on Michael’s website:

Albrecht Dürer – Poster boy of the German Renaissance

Germany * 1471-1528

Albrecht Dürer was born on 21 May 1471 in Neurenberg, Germany. His father was a goldsmith and young Dürer started his “career” working in his father’s workshop before being apprenticed to painter and engraver Michael Wolgemut between 1486-89. There he was given a wide range of tasks: the designs for stained glass windows, artefacts, carving wooden blocks for book illustrations, enabling him to acquire varied skills. Through copies he became acquainted with Dutch art and the works of the well-known German copper engraver Martin Schongauer.

In 1490 he starts a four-year long odyssey through Europe although the exact route remains unknown. From notes it is known that he visited Haarlem, The Netherlands, and Colmar, France. In the latter town he was keen to get to know Schongauer, but unfortunately he had died shortly before Dürer arrived. In Basel, Switzerland, he was tasked by book printer and publisher Johann Amerbach to produce wood cuts as illustrations for the “Komedies” (“Comedies”) of Terentius. It is understood that at the end of his travels, he met the “Hausbuchmeester” who taught him copper engraving and etching. Both the influence of Schongauer and Hausbuchmeester were clearly present in his early works.

In 1494 he married Agnes Frey, the daughter of a copper engraver, but the marriage remained childless. When the plague hit Neurenberg shortly after, he undertook his first trip to Italy, making plenty of watercolour paintings en-route. He travelled via Augsburg and Innsbruck over the Brenner Pass to Venice, where he met the Bellini brothers who served as inspiration as did Jacopo de Barbari, who made Dürer look deeper into the matter of proportion. He copied, studied and drew from Italian works.


Paumgartner Altar – Albrecht Dürer (1501-04)

Once returned to Nuerenberg he established his own engraving workshop. He developed his skills further and his 1500 self-portrait shows him as a confident young man, conscious of his individuality and ability. Unusual at the time, he signed his work with his initials AD.  At the workshop, he started a modest production of altar pieces for private customers with a preference for painted triptychs such as the Paumgartner Altar (1501-04), followed by his religious piece de resistance, the Heller Altar (1508-09).

In 1505 he undertakes a second trip to Italy to escape another outbreak of the plague, but returns to Neurenberg two years later. There he starts to move in humanist circles and becomes good friends with scientist Willibald Pirckheimer, who brings him work of foreign masters.

Albrecth durer-charlemagne

Emperor Charlemagne – Albrecht Dürer (1509)

Dürer also played a key role in Renaissance portraiture through works such as the portrait of Emperor Charlemagne (1509) and the two portraits of Emperor Maximilian. The same year he becomes a member of Neurenberg’s Great Council, an honour bestowed on eminent citizens.

From 1510 Dürer increasingly devotes his time to engravings and wood cuts with commissions important rulers at the time such as Emperor Maximillian, who tasked him with producing a humanist-allegorical cycle Triumphal Arch and the Large Triumphal Carriage. His body of engravings and wood cuts is considerable – he created around 350 wood cuts and more than 100 copper engravings and dry needle etchings as well as over 1000 drawings and water colours.


Emperor Maximillian’s Large Triumphal Carriage – Albrecht Dürer (1515)

In 1520 he started a journey through The Netherlands where he was received warmly and met key people such as the humanist Erasmus and the painters Lucas van Leyden, Jan Provost and Joachim Patenier. Several painted and engraved portraits followed, including one of his friend Willibald Pirckheimer (1524). Between 1523 and 1528 he wrote treaties “Lessons in measuring” and “Four books about proportion”.

His later work, the “Four Apostles” (1526), consisted of two parts and was finished a few years before his death, signalling his sympathies for the Reformation. Dürer died in his city of birth on 6 April 1528.