The collection / About the collection
1889-1900: Early works
Gustav Vigeland made his debut at the Norwegian State Exhibition with the group Hagar and Ismael in 1889. The medium sized group was modelled in sculptor Brynjulf Bergslien's studio. Bergslien helped Vigeland both with his art and finances during the young artist’s first year as a sculptor. For a short time Vigeland also attended evening classes at the Royal College of Drawing, and from the beginning of 1890 he worked in the studio of sculptor Mathias Skeibrok.
In January 1891 Vigeland went to Copenhagen where he was given the opportunity to work in the old, established studio of Vilhelm Bissen. He received a state grant which enabled him to remain in Denmark until the end of that year. In Bissen's studio he created his first life sized group; Accursed.
In 1893 Vigeland spent several months in Paris. During his stay he visited Auguste Rodin's studio several times, and especially Rodin's Gates of Hell made a deep impression on him.
Back in Norway Vigeland started on his own large relief, Hell, a major work of his early years which reveals the deep despair which he experienced in the 1890's. Conceptions of death recur in a number of his works from this period. Another important subject is the relationship between man and woman; his portrayals range from melancholy and desolation to deep affection and ecstasy.
Most characteristic to Vigeland's works in the first half of the 1890's is an emphasis on the inner life of his figures, combined with a dissolved and almost sketch like form. After travelling to Italy in 1895 and 1896, experiencing to full the art of the Renaissance and Antiquity, Vigeland tightened his form during the second half of the 1890's, but the feelings, moods and expressions are still important to him. The sculptures from the second half of the 1890's are characterised by their thin, almost skeleton-like figures, like in Kiss (1898).
1900-1910: Central works
The expressive and slim figure style in Vigeland's early works gradually gave way to a greater harmony in both form and subject matter. The form became calmer and fuller, and this development points towards Vigeland's later style.
Although Vigeland in his early works struggeled to obtain realistic proportions, the desire for anatomical analysis and natural representation was never a goal in itself. He was seeking the inner experience, often in the relationship between man and woman. Young man and woman (1906) is one of many examples. The couple stand close together, but nevertheless look past each other, thoughtful, as if in a world of their own.
Vigeland has given Norwegian sculpture some of the finest portrayals of the eternal theme on the relationship between man and woman. In these groups he tells of melancholy, devotion, ecstatic rapture and deep pain, occasionally happiness, but rarely joy.
1910-1943: Late works
Around 1913, a radical change in style occurred in Vigeland's art. His formal language gradually became more simplified, with fewer details and larger surfaces and volume. This change coincided with a radical change also in European sculpture, and it is likely that Vigeland was influenced by these developments. It is known that he bought pictures of Matisse's sculptures, and he expressed an interest in cubism.
The most important reason for these changes is still the fact that Vigeland in this period started to model sculptures only meant to be cut in stone. And, while he earlier had uses soft stones, like marble and soapstone, he now started to cut in granite. Most sculptures from 1913-15 are cut in less than full size.
It is during these years that the first ideas to a monumental park occurred, first in drawings from 1914, and then in a model of the fountain in the park around the Royal Palace (Abelhaugen). This model shows the fountain together with 36 large groups planned in granite. These ideas contributed to the formal changes in Vigeland’s art. Sculptures placed in open air, meant to be seen from a distance, demand a more monumental formal language, like the one we see in the Vigeland Park today.
Portraits and monuments
During his life, Gustav Vigeland modelled about 100 portrait busts, the earliest in 1892, and the last in 1941. His most productive period as a portrayer was the years 1901-1905 when he modelled all together 27 busts, ten of them in 1903. The portraits of Henrik Ibsen (1903), Knut Hamsun (1903) and King Oscar II (1903) are among these.
In the same period Vigeland made several of his monuments. Around the turn of the century most of the outdoor sculptures in the capital were made by his senior colleagues, such as Brynjulf Bergslien's Karl Johan (1875) in front of the Royal Palace and Carl Ludvig Jacobsen's Christian IV (1880) at Stortorget. Vigeland differed from their naturalism by emphasising the individuality and inner life of the persons he portrayed. Among Vigeland's most famous monuments from this period are Camilla Collett (1906) and Niels Henrik Abel (1905) in the park surrounding the Royal Palace, and Henrik Wergeland (1907) in Kristiansand.
Vigeland made monuments also later in life, among others the monuments to Christian Michelsen (1936) in Bergen, Peder Claussøn Friis (1937) in Sør-Audnedal, and Snorre Sturlason (1938) in Iceland and in Bergen. In these later works Vigeland has concentrated upon the formal aspect, and the content seems to have been of less importance.
The Vigeland Park
All the original plaster models for the bronze and granite sculptures in the Vigeland park is in the Vigeland Museum.
In the Fountain Hall, all the original full size plaster models for Vigeland's bronze fountain in the Vigeland Park are displayed. The central group with six giants supporting the large basin is surrounded by 20 tree groups. These individually formed tree groups, with figures, recount the history of mankind from cradle to grave. The portrayal of life begins with a tree entwining newly-born babies and ends in a tree with a skeleton figure, barely recognisable from the tree itself. In the 60 reliefs on the gallery's four walls, the life cycle of the tree groups is repeated, but with more details and greater variation in subject matter.
In the Monolith Hall stand several of the original plaster models to the 36 granite sculptures on the Monolith plateau, as well as the Monolith itself. This sculpture was carved in one piece (hence the name Monolith), but it was first modelled in clay, and then casted in plaster in three parts, as displayed in the museum today.
The Vigeland Museum has registered approximately 420 woodcuts made by Gustav Vigeland during the years 1915-1940.
Vigeland used smooth-planed, knotless kitchen breadboards of birch. He drew directly on the board, or he transferred a drawing with the help of carbon paper to the board before starting to cut. The prints were not numbered, but most likely there were seldom made more than 20 to 30 prints, usually far less.
His subject matter was often inspired by the dramatic nature on the coast of southern Norway, with foaming surfs, rocky sea-swept shoreline and windblown trees. In 1928, Vigeland's summer house, Breime, was finished. It was located in Vigeland’s native district, west of Mandal. During the years 1932 to 1939 Gustav and Ingerid Vigeland spent nearly tree months every summer at Breime.
Vigeland never experimented with colour or technical innovations in his woodcuts. The cut, however, varies greatly, from broad, black contours, to thin, subtle and elegant white lines. In the beginning, a flat surface style dominated, and he repeated motifs from his sculptures in a strong decorative style. Soon, depth was added, and landscapes became more important.
The Vigeland Museum has about 12 000 drawings made by Gustav Vigeland, in addition to drawings in his notebooks.
It was especially during his travels, when he was prevented from modelling, that Vigeland got outlet for his restless creative urge in his drawings. These drawings often functioned as sketches for later sculptures. In additions, they can also be seen as profound personal statements of his moods and sentiments during that time. His imagination was inexhaustible, and when the piles grew big, he posted them home for storing.
Usually, the drawings were made for private use, not for exhibitions or sale. As already mentioned, they were often sketches for sculptures, and therefore catch the core of a subject matter; the outline and a few clarifying details. Usually Vigeland used a few, steadfast, clear lines, but we can also find drawings with a welter of vigorous lines.
Arts and Crafts
When Vigeland moved to Frogner, he decided to make a personal "touch" when decorating his new apartement.
He was probably familiar with techniques in weaving from his mother back home, and this led to a thight teamwork with his wife Ingerid, who had worked with weaving since she was a litle girl. Most of the designs Vigeland made were made with the weaving square technique in mind, and with his great imagination he varied the geometrical forms. Formally, we can see resemblance between these patterns and Vigeland's decorative works in his wrought iron and granite details.
The many decorative objects for everyday use in wrought iron, made after Vigeland's sketches, were another important element in his apartement. Chandeliers made in Karl Bilgrei's forge were put up just before Christmas in 1924. During the following years he also made hanging lamps for the corner living room, bracket lamps for the front hall, different candleholders and a tableclock mounting.
The Vigeland Museum's photographic collection consists of 5052 glass plate negatives, in addition to a large number of historical photographs on paper. With few exceptions, all the photographs are from Gustav Vigeland’s time.
Glass plate negatives
Most of these photos are taken with Vigeland's own camera, either by Gustav Vigeland himself, or by Vigeland's lover and assistant through many years, Inga Syvertsen. Their aim was to document Vigeland's sculptures (photographed from the front, rear and from the sides), and his work. There are also interesting photographs of the construction work in the Vigeland Park and from Vigeland’s studios at Hammersborg and Frogner.