Early Expressionism in Icelandic Art

Jón Stefánsson, Jóhannes Kjarval, and Finnur Jónsson

Authored by: Margrét Elísabet Ólafsdóttir

The Routledge Companion to Expressionism in a Transnational Context

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  August  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138712553
eBook ISBN: 9781315200088
Adobe ISBN:


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In May 1920, the linguist Alexander Jóhannesson 1 (1888–1965) gave a public lecture in Reykjavik on the “new art movements” with “grotesque names,” such as cubism, futurism, Dadaism, and expressionism. 2 He explained that these movements were together known under the common denominator of “expressionism” and had spread from Paris and Italy to Germany and then the Nordic countries. 3 To further elaborate the characteristics of expressionism, he provided examples of works by Pablo Picasso, Karl Schmitt-Rottluff, and Francis Picabia that revealed in his words “extreme malformations” of an art that for centuries had been based on the observation of nature. The expressionists reversed this trend by turning inward, toward an inner vision and away from nature. 4 None of the works mentioned had been shown in Iceland, and Alexander maintained that no local artist was concerned with these movements. Nonetheless, Alexander must have been aware of the influences of these “newest trends in art” beginning to appear in works of Icelandic artists, even as he laid out the arguments that were later used to deride artists inspired by expressionism. An open debate about expressionism in Icelandic art first occurred in 1925, when Finnur Jónsson (1892–1993) returned to Iceland from Germany after having exhibited at the gallery Der Sturm. The critique, directed toward Finnur, revealed a preference for French expressionism among the group of Icelandic artists who had been living in Copenhagen.

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