For centuries, Icelanders were certainly not the culturally refined and creative lot they pride themselves on being today. This is evident from the history (and the collection) of The National Gallery of Iceland. This national museum was established in 1884, by Björn Bjarnason, an Icelandic lawyer living in Copenhagen, Denmark. Bjarnason collected works by some of Denmark’s finest artists and donated his collection to his countrymen in an attempt to improve their artistic and cultural tastes. By 1900, the museum collection consisted of 74 paintings and two sculptures, none of them from Iceland.
In 1902, the collection finally received its first Icelandic artwork, the sculpture Outlaws by Einar Jónsson. In 1911, an Icelandic painting was added, Repose by Þórarinn B. Þorláksson. The collection has improved significantly through the years and by 2004, it consisted of more than 10,000 works.
The primary focus of the museum’s collection is the work of Icelandic artists from the 19th and the 20th century, although works by prominent international masters are also included. The cornerstone of the museum is the work of Icelandic masters such as painters Gunnlaugur Scheving and the Ásgrímur Jónsson collection, who donated all his work to the museum in 1956.
In 1987, the museum found a permanent location on Fríkirkjuvegur 7, after decades of uncertainty over housing. Designed by Iceland’s most famous architect, Guðjón Samúelsson, this beautiful white building was originally built as a freezing plant in 1916.
The museum offers guided tours everyday and organises events and programmes in connection with exhibitions. Admission to the museum is free of charge. SBB
Fríkirkjuvegur 7, 101 Reykjavík
Tel.: 515 9600, www.listasafn.is
Open Tue.–Sun. 11.00–17.00