Here, once again, Einar Jónsson seeks inspiration in the folklore tradition, working on the theme of the Night Troll at the Window. The troll was a popular theme in Nordic art in the late 19th century. Both Ásgrímur Jónsson and Guðmundur Thorsteinsson (known as Muggur) drew illustrations for tales of trolls, and established the troll in the Icelandic imagination. Einar's version departs from the traditional tale, which does not say that the troll ever caught the girl. The original maquette, the small clay figure in the glass cabinet, shows that he has also altered the proportions between girl and troll, endowing the image with more drama.
Einar Jónsson made his first appearance as a sculptor when he exhibited the sculpture “ Outlaws “at Charlottenburg in Copenhagen in 1901; by means of this piece, Einar Jónsson laid the foundation of Icelandic sculpture. Folklore had a strong influence on Icelandic artists in the late 19th century and at the turn of the 20th, and they used folklore themes in their work. An example of this is Matthías Jochumsson's play “Útilegumennirnir” (The Outlaws), subsequently known as Skugga-Sveinn (Shadow-Sveinn) after its main character, which was first performed in 1862 and achieved great popularity.
The Sphinx is a mythical beast with the body of a lion and the head of a man. Here the Sphinx symbolises Mother Earth, lying forwards on her paws, while two humans cross their arms on her breast and suckle her breasts. Beneath them the dead may be seen. Over Mother Earth grows a cypress tree, symbolising the vegetation of the earth; this may also signify death, as Einar had intended the sculpture to be a memorial on a grave. Bas-reliefs on the foundation show on the one hand herbivores and on the other carnivores. Man, of course, is one of the latter.
The Pioneer has ideological links to the Hand. A cast of the work stands beneath the statue of Jón Sigurðsson, hero of Iceland's campaign for independence, on Austurvöllur in central Reykjavík. The bas-relief is based upon vertical chiselled forms of columnar basalt, and comprises two sections. One shows a tall, strong man clearing a path marked by basalt columns. While the other shows representatives of the Icelandic people, who stand still, providing a contrast to the movement and energy of the Pioneer. The relief is a symbol of Jón Sigurðssson's character and his contribution to the campaign for independence.
The first idea for the Wave of Ages originated in Rome in 1902. Einar originally called the work Skýstrokkurinn (Whirlwind), implying that he was personifying a natural phenomenon, but he changed the name when he exhibited the piece at Den Frie in Copenhagen in 1906.
The movement begins in a horizontal plane where human figures are swept about by the waves. These people appear dazed, only half-conscious. Only one has struggled out of the waves and hangs feebly at the woman's breast. He shows a clear expression, with open mouth and outspread arms,.
The symbol of Psyche or the soul is, according to Greek mythology, a young maiden with butterfly wings; she was the lover of the god of love himself, known as Amor, Cupid or Eros. Ancient philosophers said that the soul was shaped by the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Hence the soul is a microcosm of the whole universe. The bas-relief is based upon four human figures present at the birth, while the body of Psyche lies across the space, linking them together. The essential form is based upon the "sun-cross" or Hammer of Þór, the ancient symbol of the sun that signified fertility and birth.
The first idea for the sculpture of Ingólfur Arnarson originated in Rome in 1902, when Einar made a small clay statue of Ingólfur, Iceland's first settler. Einar later received a telegram from the Reykjavík Mechanics' Association, when he was in Copenhagen, asking him to start work on the sculpture. Ingólfur Arnarson, who is reputed to have settled in what is now Reykjavík in 874 AD, rests his arm on one of his high-seat pillars. Legend says he asked the gods to guide him to a place of settlement, flung the high-seat pillars overboard, and settled where they washed ashore.
There are many sculptures and attempts at public art strewn over Reykjavík. Most of the time we don’t notice them, blinded by the familiar surroundings of our day to day. We should stop and look every now and again. A lot of them are beautiful, and almost every one of them has an interesting story that goes with it. To encourage this, we made you up a short walk which should take about 40–50 minutes of your time. In the walk, we focus exclusively on the work of fabled sculptor Einar Jónsson (1874–1954), who is one of Iceland’s most celebrated artists and is responsible for some groundbreaking sculptures. Do read on, and get to know some of the stern- faced green figures dotting our urban landscape, and why they are there.