around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most
spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area
consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine
deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it
leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.
artists have tried to interpret the pathos that is the human condition.
In many ways, Gustav Vigeland, the Norwegian sculptor, succeeded. His
lasting legacy is a monumental lifetime work that occupies a 75-acre
park in Oslo.
Vigeland once said, "I was a sculptor before I was born. I was driven
and lashed onward by powerful forces outside myself. There was no other
path, and no matter how hard I might have tried to find one, I would
have been forced back again."
Adolf Gustav Vigeland was born to a family of craftsmen, just outside
Halse og Harkmark, once a part of the town of Mandal. His parents were
Elesæus Thorsen, a cabinetmaker and Anne Aanensdatter. His younger
brother, Emanuel Vigeland, also became a noted artist. However, the
sudden death of his father compelled him to move back to Mandal to help
his family. Gustav lived for a time with his grandparents on a farm
called Mjunebrokka in Vigeland, an old farm in Valle parish.
artistic talents first appeared in his drawings and woodcarvings at the
age of fifteen. His father took him to Oslo to apprentice him to a
master. But the death of his father only two years later forced Vigeland
to return to Mandal and forget all hopes of becoming a sculptor. In
1888, Vigeland returned to Oslo, this time taking with him a bundle of
sketches for statues, groups and reliefs, their subject matter based
mostly on Greek mythology and the Bible. The sculptor, Brynjulf
Bergslien, impressed by his drawings, took him under his wing and gave
him his first practical training.
Vigeland spent the years 1891 to 1896 traveling to Copenhagen, Paris,
Berlin and Florence. While in Paris, he frequented Auguste Rodin's
workshop, Rodin's intimate treatment of his relationship between man and
woman was also influential in Vigeland's life-long development of this
theme. While in Florence, he studied ancient and Renaissance artworks.
In these years the themes that would later dominate his inspiration—the
death and the relationship between man and woman—first appeared. He
first exhibited his works in Oslo in 1894 and 1896 to notable critical
Until 1902 Vigeland worked on the restoration of the Nidaros Cathedral
in Trondheim. This contact with Mediaeval art contributed to another
frequent theme in Vigeland's art—the dragon as a symbol of sin but also
as a force of nature, fighting against man.
in Oslo, he obtained from the city government an abandoned studio in
which to work. In 1905 Norway became independent from Sweden. Vigeland,
considered the most talented Norwegian sculptor, received numerous
commissions for statues and busts celebrating famous Norwegians patriots
like Henrik Ibsen and Niels Henrik Abel.
In 1921 the City of Oslo decided to demolish the house where Vigeland
lived and build a library. After a long dispute, Vigeland was granted a
new building from the city, where he could work and live: in exchange,
he promised to donate to the city all his subsequent works, including
sculptures, drawings, engravings and models.
Vigeland moved to his new studio in Nobels gate in the vicinity of
Frogner Park in 1924. He had chosen this park as the location for his
fountain. Over the following twenty years, Vigeland devoted his life and
work to the creation of an open exhibition of his works, which
eventually became Vigeland Park. The park covers 75 acres and features
212 of his bronze and granite sculptures.
The Park Today
The park’s sculptures include over 600 figures, all modeled in full size
by Vigeland without the assistance of pupils or other artists. Vigeland
designed the park similar to a classical European formal garden, with
two long and wide gravel walkways set perpendicularly to each other.
Sculptures are grouped largely on one axis, gathered along a bridge,
around a large fountain, and leading up stone steps to Vigeland’s
“Monolith,” a column of 121 intertwined naked figures rising to a height
of over 56 feet. He made his human figures larger than life.
The centerpiece and the initial focus of the outdoor exhibition was the
Fountain. In 1907, Vigeland presented a model of the Fountain to the
city counsel and they commissioned him to create it for the square in
from of the National Parliament. Time passed and controversy arose over
the location, plus the counsel couldn’t raise enough money. While he
waited, Vigeland added several more sculptural groups and, in 1919, a
tall granite column. In 1924, the City of Oslo decided that Vigeland’s
Fountain should be erected in Frogner Park, later called Vigeland Park.
In 1931 followed a renewal of the bridge over the Frogner ponds enabled
Vigeland to add numerous sculptures on the parapets and grounds.
the center of the basin, six giants hold the large saucer-shaped vessel
aloft and from it a curtain of water spills down around them. The men,
representing different ages, may be interpreted as toiling with the
burden of life and the effort expended in lifting the heavy vessel
Water, a universal symbol of fertility, appears in juxtaposition with
the 20 "tree groups" on the surrounding parapet, the latter symbolizing
the "tree of life." The tree groups represent a romantic expression of
Man's relationship to nature. They also form the setting for life's
evolving stages, stretching from childhood and adolescence through
adulthood to old age and death.
56-foot-high column, carved out of a single block of stone, consists of
121 figures. Modeled by Vigeland in the years 1924-25, it took three
stone carvers from 1929 to 1943 to complete it, just shortly before
Vigeland died. The column is completely covered by human figures in
relief, singly or in groups. At the bottom there are seemingly inert
bodies. Above them figures ascent in a spiral, the movement halting
midway and then rising at a fast pace towards the summit which is
covered by small children. Various interpretations of the Monolith have
been suggested, including Man's resurrection, Man’s struggle for
existence, and Man's yearning for spiritual spheres.
The Monolith Plateau
Surrounding the Monolith stand 36 granite sculptural groups depicting
the cycle of life. Every sculpture includes at least two figures
depicting Man in a variety of typical human situations and
relationships. A man and woman sit facing one another with a little
child between them. Children play, young men and women dream and
embrace. Vigeland represented old age in several groups.
groups show a certain variation in composition and form. Initially,
Vigeland wanted to retain the volume of the granite block. The figures
from this early period are broad and simple with a minimal of detail.
Later, however, he introduced greater differentiation of composition and
figure style and allowed more space between figures. Although a skilled
carver himself, Vigeland didn’t sculpt directly in granite. He modeled
the groups full size in clay and employed professional stone carvers to
do the time-consuming work of transferring his original models into
Fifty-eight bronze sculptures, portraying people of widely differing
ages, stand on granite parapets on either side of the Bridge. Vigeland’s
motifs for these groups include the relationships between man and woman
and between adults and children.
The Wheel Of Life
finishing the 58 sculptures for the bridge in the early 1930s, Vigeland
completed a small children's circle which now stands at one end of the
bridge next to the small lake. In 1934, he completed the large bronze
"Wheel of Life, “composed of figures swirling in an eternal circle.
The Vigeland Museum
Vigeland lived and worked in Nobels Gate from 1924 until his death in
1943. His ashes are still preserved in the belfry there. The City of
Oslo made the building, about five minutes south of the park, into the
Vigeland Museum. Within it is Vigeland’s third-floor apartment, as well
as 1,600 sculptures, 12,000 drawings, and 400 woodcuts, along with the
plaster models of the Vigeland Park sculptures.
< Back to Scandinavian Arts Go to Georg Jensen
Every year about 95 000 people die in
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room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space
have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the
the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of
wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to
conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey.
Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually
crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland,
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