Einar Jonsson was Iceland’s first sculptor. He lived in an era when there was little tradition of sculpture in Iceland, and became a pioneer in this field by establishing the art of sculpture in his homeland. He was very creative and artistic from childhood and was fascinated with all forms of fine arts from a young age. As a student he desired to study sculpture and moved to Denmark to study at the Copenhagen Academy of Art. After that he received a grant to study in Rome where he undertook apprenticeship and lived for two years. Though he had received a conventional education in classical sculptural approach, he was a maverick at heart and it was not long before he challenged the set norms of style in sculpture. Gradually his works departed from the classical standard and became marked with powerful motifs that evoked feelings of passion and romance. He was also unusual in his choice of material as he primarily worked with Plaster of Paris instead of modeling clay, as it allowed him to work on a single piece of work for years. He donated all of his works as a gift to the Icelandic people which are now housed in the Einar Jónsson Museum in Reykjavík
Childhood & Early Life
Einar Jonsson was born on 11 May 1874, in Galtafell, a farm in southern Iceland, as the son of Gróa Einarsdóttir and Jón Bjarnason.
He received his first communion at Hrepphóla church in 1888. He was very intelligent and creative from childhood.
He visited the city of Reykjavík for the first time in 1889 and saw a gallery of paintings for the first time in a parliament building. He was deeply influenced by the intense beauty of the works of art and it inspired the artist in him.
He moved to Reykjavík in 1891 to study at the commercial school Hermes. He learnt English and drawing from Torfhildur Hólm, an Icelandic author. By this time he had decided to pursue a career in fine arts.
He moved to Copenhagen, Denmark in 1893 and studied wood carving with Sophus Petersen and C.B. Hansen. The next year he became a student of the Norwegian sculptor Stephan Sinding and also started taking evening classes at the Tekniske Selskabs school.
Between 1894 and 1896 he also studied drawing at the school of Gustav and Sophus Vermehren.
Einar Jonsson enrolled at Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen in 1896 and studied there till 1899. His mentors at the academy were Wilhelm Bissen and Theobald Stein.Jónsson. He presented his work ‘Outlaws’—his first publicly exhibited work—at the Spring Salon in Copenhagen in 1901.
He received a grant from the Althing, the Icelandic parliament, in 1902 to study in Rome for two years. During his stay in Rome, he realized that the classical art tradition restrained the freedom of artists and burdened them with the need to conform to conventions. He became a bitter critic of the classical art form and completely rejected naturalistic depiction.
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Einar Jonsson exhibited the piece ‘Man and Woman’ at an art show in Das Kunstlerhaüs in Vienna in 1903. He strived for originality and refused to follow in the footsteps of others. He derived inspiration from German symbolism and developed a figurative language consisting of symbols and allegories.
In 1905 he took part in the shows of Die Frie Billedhuggere for the first time and would continue this tradition until 1909. He received a commission from the craftsman association in 1906 to make a statue of Ingólfur Arnarson.
He worked on creating a monument in the honor of Jónas Hallgrímsson, an Icelandic poet, author and naturalist. The statue was unveiled in 1907.
In 1909, he offered to gift all of his works to the Icelandic people. In return, the Althing agreed to provide him with a home and studio in Reykjavík. It was decided that a museum should be built to house the art works.
Einar Jonsson decided to locate the museum at the top of Skolavorduhaed, and work on the museum began in 1916. He designed the museum in collaboration with Architect Einar Erlendsson. The Einar Jonsson Museum was officially opened on Midsummer's Day in 1923.
As a sculptor, he not only produced works for financial considerations, but also produced many private works for the sake of art during his later years as he became increasingly drawn towards spirituality. The ‘Birth of Psyche’, ‘Fantasy on Yggdrasill, the Tree of Life’, and ‘Thor Wrestling with Old Age’ were among these works.
During his lifetime, Einar Jonsson created several public monuments, erected in the honor of famous personalities. These include: ‘Christian IX ‘(1915), ‘Þorfinnur Karlsefni’ (1920), ‘Hallgrímur Pétursson’ (1922), ‘Ingólfur Arnarson’ ( 1924), and ‘Hannes Hafstein’ (1931).
Along with the public monuments that he was commissioned by the government to produce, he also received private commissions to create portraits and cemetery monuments. His most notable private commissions include ‘Memorial to the Eisert Family of Lodz’ (1935), ‘Monument to Dr. Charcot and His Ship’ (1936), ‘Memorial to a Lost Airliner’ (1952), and various cemetery markers.
Personal Life & Legacy
Einar Jonsson first met Anna Marie Jørgensen in 1901 at a new year’s ball. They fell in love and became engaged shortly after. However they had to wait for several years to get married and finally wed in 1917.
He lived a long and productive life and died on 18 October 1954 in Reykjavík, at the age of 80.