Published June 15, 2017
The National Gallery is located in an old ice house turned nightclub that burnt down in the 1970s. Well, it didn’t completely burn down. It was repaired and used as a storage for about a decade. It was in 1987 that the National Gallery moved in and updated the building with that particular late-eighties modern aesthetic: aluminium covering everything. It was built the same year as Kringlan, the first major Icelandic mall. Not surprisingly, the outside still has the windowless insulated look of an icehouse or a rave dungeon.
The National Gallery of Iceland was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1884 by the entrepreneur Björn Bjarnarson. The first exhibitions where gifts from Danish artists, but nowadays you can enjoy art from Icelandic and world-renowned international artists alike. There are multimedia rooms and guided tours of the gallery in english for guests every Friday at noon, or you can book a special guided tours in foreign languages by appointment.
When you pay admission to the National Gallery, you also gain access to two further galleries: The Ásgrímur Jónsson Collection and the Sigurjón Ólafsson Museum.
The Ásgrímur Jónsson Collection
You’ve probably noticed that everyone in Iceland has several jobs. Every DJ, artist, or actress usually daylights as a salesperson, barista or a caregiver to the elderly. It’s not easy making a living as an artist in a country of 330,000. Ásgrímur Jónsson was Iceland’s first full-time artist, managing to live solely off his paintings. He became Iceland’s pioneer landscape painter, creating his unique way to capture how the light hits the land.
When Ásgrímur died, he gave all of his belongings to the Icelandic nation—including his house at Bergstaðastræti 74 in the centre of Reykjavík. It is in his former home that the museum now stands. Take a stroll there after the National Gallery or use your pass on another day.
The Sigurjón Ólafsson Museum
This museum only became a part of the National Gallery in 2012. It was originally opened in 1984 by Sigurjón’s widow as a way to honour her late-husband, and promote a continued interest in his work. Sigurjón always worked with abstract forms, but also honed a realistic style, which characterises many of his portrait and bust sculptures. This museum has become a pillar in Icelandic culture—hosting a summer concert series, exhibiting the works of other artists as well as running a publication, which commemorates the various exhibitions that have taken place. The building is also beautiful, and the trip to the museum takes you on the scenic Sculpture and Shore Walk, which winds along the ocean front. Once there, we recommend sitting down and enjoying a cup at the museum’s café and take in the panoramic view of Esjan. It’s located at Laugarnestangi 70, 105 Reykjavík.