Exploring Reykjavík's Secret Garden of Sculpture

Einar Jónsson's sculptures may not be the reason Mum's go to Iceland, but his museum is well worth a gander next time you're in Reykjavík...
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Einar Jónsson's sculptures may not be the reason Mum's go to Iceland, but his museum is well worth a gander next time you're in Reykjavík...

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Ever since they moved the penis museum to Húsavik, the weirdest attraction in Reykjavík has got to be the sculptures of Einar Jónsson (1874-1954). His museum is tucked behind the Hallgrímskirkja, the big, pointy church up the hill that dominates the city centre skyline. In fact, if you’re pushed for time, you can experience a considerable number of the man’s works up close without having to set foot inside.

The sculpture garden is visible from the road and the entrance gate is on Freyjugata. At first glance through the fence from the road, it could fool you into thinking it’s a cemetery. You seem to see figures of angels cradling humans in mortal slumber, solemn monuments to the dead, till you look closer and realise that what you’re seeing is some strange meld of bodily forms more like something out of Species or The Thing than the Bible.

Einar’s sculptures are of small size but large vision. The artist they’re most likely to remind you of is William Blake, though Einar’s symbolism used in these twisting bronzes is wider-reaching, taking in not just the Christian mythology but those of other cultures, including Norse, Greek and Far Eastern.

A hundred crouched and weeping women, their faces hidden, form an ascending wedge spearheaded by some kind of avenging angel.

Maybe what strikes most is the way different scales are combined in one form, so for instance, a huge, crouching man is embraced by a figure the height of a child but the proportions and appearance of a female adult. The giant man and the young woman don’t belong together on the same planet, yet there’s a bond between them, as though the woman is consoling him. The effect is a little disturbing. Perhaps these are similar to images we recognise from our dreams.

Other works are more complex, in both form and interpretation. An athletic male figure sits on a throne of bulls, clad in pyramidal headgear of possibly Masonic significance. A hundred crouched and weeping women, their faces hidden, form an ascending wedge spearheaded by some kind of avenging angel.

In the centrepiece of the garden, several bodies, again all scaled to different, irreconcilable dimensions, seem to grow out of a tree. And the weirdest of all, a man appearing to perform the 69 position with what looks to be a scaled-down bull.

This place is definitely worth seeking out if you find yourself with an hour to kill in Rekjavík. Next time, I might even check out what’s inside the museum, especially as it’s free.

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