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Art Watch : Gustav Vigeland

Gustav Vigeland is in focus for our Art Watch for today. This section is brought to you by Art From Us and Divvya Nirula. The Artists we spotlight here can be from any field, across any discipline, and using a variety of media. We share here why we think they are important and worth watching. Be it genius creators of eras gone by. Or the upcoming contemporary artist who is yet to have their first show. All come under the purview of Art Watch.

In the heart of the city of Oslo is Vigeland park. It is the world’s largest sculpture park made by one single artist, Gustav Vigeland. It contains the life’s work of Gustav Vigeland with more than 200 sculptures in bronze, granite and wrought iron. They can be statues, creations but they are born from a deep mediation, with an impetus within Vigeland to leave behind solid impressions of what he wanted to celebrate for generations to see.

Vigeland’s most famous boy, ‘The Angry Boy’, is located in the middle of the bridge, along with over fifty bronze sculptures, where the artist wanted to display mostly young people and show the relationship between men and women. And this is his preoccupation – the celebrations of life and all of life’s relationships. His subjects range from life and death, sexuality, nurturing humanity, the creation of wisdom and the cyclical nature of everything in the material universe. The moment of inception was very important for Vigeland, he writes in his diary in 1896, on February 4th – “That two bodies press convulsively together, man and woman, he fertilizing her, he giving her a budding life, or he planting a seed, a seed of life in her womb – Oh God. I think this God-given idea is so enormous, so eternal, so endlessly wise – that people should not be allowed to depict it in art!

Why Gustav Vigeland?

Born in 1869, in Norway – Gustav’s father was a carpenter. His teachers recognised his talent. When he started work he was apprenticed to a wood carver in 1884. Vigeland was creative and was passionate about art and life and he attended art schools in Oslo and Copenhagen, before he headed to the centre of artistic development and education – he spent several months in Paris in 1893. While there, he visited the studio of Auguste Rodin; that the august sculptor had a significant influence, can be seen in the highly realistic, emotional style of Vigeland’s early work.

Around 1900 Vigeland was influenced by medieval sculpture; and one can see from his work that he adopted a more simple and stylized approach. Very soon embarked upon the project that would consume him for the rest of his life and career, his large series of monumental figures for a park in Oslo. The artist and sculptor designed more than 200 individual sculptural projects for Frogner Park, including an entrance, bridge, fountain, circular staircase, mosaic labyrinth, and a stone forest composed of carved figures.


The works are open to interpretation because the figures could represent the faith and joy in the young Norwegian state in 1905, in work for independence, freedom and identity. His extraordinary talent was supported by wealthy sponsors, and backed by the municipality and by the state. It shows people in simple acts of love, faith and fight, life and death. Deliberately, the figures do not wear any cloths that can identify them as of a specific time or social status. The question of nakedness has come up and the truth is that it is a great leveller. There is the truth right  there that everyone is born the same way, and they will die eventually and in between  they fill their time, and that nobody is really very different from another. Why should the tremendous celebration be hidden. These figures are timeless, and are formed in the different styles of Gustav Vigeland’s art through different phases, all based on studies of the human body.

Vigeland was tired of copying old sculptures and wanted to create a new Nordic free art, based on ideas of modernism, based on his meetings and interactions with Mathias Skeibrok’s and Rodin.

For more Artists handpicked by Divvya Nirula – explore the ART WATCH archive.

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