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Travel tips Oslo, 5. Vigelandsmuseet and the man!

Updated: Dec 1, 2022

The man, the art, the park, and the museum. What an artist, what a visionary!

Gustav Vigeland (cc) Ingar Næss

“He is young. Let us honor him, and let us not do his talent injustice. He has dared more than anyone before him.”

Jens Thiis, 1894

This is a completely natural extension of the article about Vigelandsparken, just fifty meters across the street on the south side of Frognerparken, where you will find Vigeland's old workshop and Vigelandsmuseet. Yes, it is actually a very nice museum. I wish it was bigger because I'm sure they have far more "hidden in the basement"!

Yes, Vigeland was a great artist, but the more I read about him, the more exciting and interesting his story becomes. He is, as we have all understood, passionate about people and the human body and how wonderful it is. Then suddenly his courage awakens to let the eroticism of his artistic mind have an outlet. I have read a lot about Vigeland recently and I try to summarize and interpret his thoughts as follows. "It is a joy and a longing that finally has an outlet for all my dreams. Finally being able to sculpt the body as it is, with all its joys, experiences, longings, sorrows, and pains that it will experience, and not least what eroticism can give. Remember the body is one of the most beautiful things we have and we must not only take care of it but also allow it to unfold wildly and unrestrained!"

I promise I will look more into this exciting person's life, as a man as well as an artist. Sign up at the top right, so you get the news first! First, some facts about and from the museum. The Vigeland Museum's collection contains around 1,600 sculptures, 12,000 drawings, and 400 woodcuts, as well as pastels, wrought iron works and woodcarving works. The collection is the result of an agreement Gustav Vigeland entered into with Oslo municipality in 1919; in exchange for him giving all his art to the municipality, a studio would be built for him which would function as a future museum for his art. When Vigeland died in 1943, the municipality was given responsibility for managing the building and the art.

Vigelansmuseet, the building is one of Norway's leading examples of neoclassical architecture, was designed by architect Lorentz Ree. (cc) Ingar Næss

The sculpture park in Frognerparken is Gustav Vigeland's life's work, with over 200 beautiful sculptures, the vast majority in granite, but also some in bronze and wrought iron. This project was built mainly in the period 1940-1949, but in total is the result of over 40 years of work. The start of the park is Vigeland's Fountain, which was originally supposed to stand on Eidsvoll Plass in front of the Stortinget. These plans were never realized, and the fountain later became part of Vigeland's park plans. In 1924, the city council decided that the sculptor could build the Fountain in Frogner Park. Already at that time, the project had been expanded with the Monolith and a sculpture-rich bridge. The Vigeland Museum opened in 1947 and is sculptor Gustav Vigeland's former studio and home. Today, the museum shows a permanent collection exhibition, and changing exhibitions with three-dimensional art. The Vigeland Museum owns an almost complete collection of Gustav Vigeland's art. In the permanent exhibition, you can experience the plaster originals of the iconic works in Vigelandsparken in 1:1 size, several of the sculptor's earliest works, as well as his famous monuments and portrait busts.

Here you have a video, from my Facebook page

In the museum, you can also follow the development of Vigeland's artistry and get a unique insight into the place where he worked and lived for the last 20 years of his life.

Who was this man, Gustav Vigeland

Gustav Vigeland (cc) Ingar Næss

Gustav was born on 11 April 1869 in Mandal and is the second oldest in a group of four siblings. He was like himself right from childhood and was early allowed to challenge his creativity in his father's furniture workshop. At this time his name was Adolf Gustav Thorsen and already at the age of 15, in 1884, he was allowed to travel to Kristiania to learn woodcarving from Torsten K. Fladmoe, but in 1888 he decided to become a sculptor. So around 1889, after his father's death, he changes his name to Gustav Thorsen Vigeland. Vigeland was the name of the place where his grandfather lived and which also became his second home. Gustav gets work in the studio of Brynjulf ​​Bergslien (1830-1898) and follows the teaching of Mathias Skeibrok (1851-1896) at the School of Design. He makes his debut at the Staten Art Exhibition with the group Hagar and Ismael. How much this meant for Vigeland's creative expression has not been said, but Bergslien was recognized and had sculpted several famous people and had them placed around the open cityscape. He had applied for a scholarship several times, but in 1891 he finally received his long-awaited scholarship. He travels to Copenhagen, where he gets a place with his great role model Vilhelm Bissens. In Copenhagen, he models his first full-size major work called Forbannet, which you can find in the museum.

Gustav Vigeland Forbannelsen (cc) Ingar Næss

With this first work and journeyman piece, he wanted to show that he could handle several styles, even if he was constantly searching for "his style". This work was shown at the Staten Art Exhibition in 1893 and received an enormous response, almost from the entire press critic's stand. The work was first called "Rabbit and his family on the run", but was later changed to "The Curse". He did not want to limit the narrative of the work and experience proved that this was absolutely correct. Later, he gave all his projects only a descriptive title, so that the viewers themselves can interpret his works freely. Good decision, I think, since it is very often exactly what we want with art, to be allowed to discover the narratives and messages of the works ourselves! To understand how Gustav Vigeland became who he sought to become, we probably have to go back to 1893, when he first traveled to Paris to visit Auguste Rodin's studio. The following paragraphs are freely narrated by me, after reading various articles and descriptions of who Rodin was, his life, and his reputation. In addition, how this may have affected the still young Gustav. Vigeland had heard stories and rumors that this artist Rofin had a view and understanding of art and the human body, which was actually very similar to what he himself was looking for. In particular, it was Rodin's ability to recreate absolutely all forms of the body, including the most erotic and sensual, so that they were perceived as real and bordering on life. All these impressions and experiences which he received during his visits to Paris, he embraced and took home with him, well preserved in his heart. This was perhaps the strongest discovery he had received so far and it was mainly based on all the honesty and naturalness he showed through his sculptural narratives. Rodin probably wanted each and every one of those who looked at his work to fill the experience and pleasure with their own thoughts and dreams. Remember we are at the end of the 19th century and this is the legal visual "pleasure presentation" of the time! He thanked Rodin for this almost supernatural and extremely mature way of living out his art. This leaves a mark on the mind of a young artist in the search for his own style. But was this Rodin so unique, well to understand a little better what Gustav Vigeland brought home I refer to what one of Rodin's critics has said;

The Kiss by Rodin

"Rodin has his own ability to express sexuality through his materials and the finely polished textures down into the flesh itself. Uninhibited figures, arched poses and intimate couples have an undeniable erotic power that can certainly cause many scandals, but continues to fascinate us all even today.” Wow, it was either very easy, or really challenging to be Vigeland and I think it was a bit of both, but mostly easy! I follow this up with what a well-known art critic, Alastair Sooke, writes. "The Kiss" is known as one of art's most popular sculptures of sexual love. Auguste Rodin's sculpture of the two lovers that he has controversially entangled has made a story blossom. It has to be one of the most honest and popular "images" of carnal love in the history of art: Auguste Rodin's monumental marble sculpture of two naked lovers fused in passion, known as The Kiss. With slender and lithe bodies, which provide a striking contrast to the rough-chiseled stone on which they sit, Rodin's lovers appear timeless and idealized: a universal representation of sexual infatuation, oblivious to everything else.

The Kiss seems so vividly optimistic, simple, and carefree, the story of its creation and afterlife offers a more knotty story. Not many showed that Rodin's paramours actually represent a pair of condemned adulterers from *Dante's Inferno?


(*The work tells of an alleged journey that Dante undertook to the afterlife during Easter week in the year 1300. The woman who led him toward the love of heavenly things, Beatrice, is dead. Dante has lost his way in a dark and impenetrable forest, and Vergil, sent by Beatrice, comes and saves him)

I would also add that Rodin also created the works, The Thinker and The Gates of Hell, which you can also find similarities in Vigeland's works. The main reason why I went in-depth on precisely the impressions from the visit to Rodin was to understand or try to find the answer to why Vigeland became who he became. I searched a little further, and I think I hit the right spot.

Helvete henger på veggen i museet (cc) Ingar Næss

Sometime after I had written the above, I found a paragraph in a book about Vigeland: "August Rodin's art, and especially the erotic groups, became important for the further development of Vigeland's art. The relief "Hell", inspired by Rodin's "Porte d'Enfer", became the main work at Vigeland's first solo exhibition in 1894." Yes, then it will be confirmed.

Adorasjon, en gudommelig tilbedelse (cc) Ingar Næss

Let's quickly move on to Vigeland's development and how precisely his first solo exhibition, which consists of 51 works and is the largest presentation of a sculptor in Norway to date, is what characterizes it. Was his work God's grace? I allow myself, at this point, to ask this very question, simply because he calls this naked and erotic sculpture precisely "Adoration", and that without shame. It says to read that this word is a Christian worship, in theological terms, and should not be used for anything else. It is clear in several scriptures: Only God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit can be objects of adoration. Also in the Catholic Church, this word, adoration, is used above all for the worship of Christ in his sacramental presence in the consecrated communion bread! 21 October – 16 November 1894 This is the first time that Gustav Vigeland, who is now 25 years old, collects his sculptures for an exhibition. He is exhibiting 51 works in plasticine, clay, plaster, and bronze that he has been working on for the past five years. So far, he has only exhibited individual works at collective exhibitions. The public in the Norwegian capital is not used to seeing sculptures of naked bodies because until now they have only been used to seeing memorials to deceased and clothed people, such as Brynjulf ​​Bergslien's statues of King Karl Johan in front of the royal palace, and Henrik Wergeland's Studenterlunden. Now it is important to remember that Vigeland himself, after returning from Rodin, no longer sees his models and sculptures as naked human beings. For Vigeland, they are now the creator's work, without blemish or richness. He wants to show everyone as equal, so that everyone who views his work can interpret, enjoy, admire, and or be inspired by their own action. (author's own interpretation) This continues into the room of eroticism and love in the museum. It goes without saying that this room can also be interpreted as a sculpture filled with sin! It is worth noting because the museum's staff have just placed the relief "Hell" in the same room. Is it a coincidence? I have to investigate this further. Follow my updates. This article has suddenly come to life.

The exhibition in 1894 takes place in the Christiania Art Association, which is based on the headmaster Gjertsen's farm on the corner of Pilestredet and Universitetsgaten. The art association has been perceived as a conservative association, and this was the starting point for the artists' strike in 1882 when the artists refused to deliver their works there because they had no influence on exhibitions and art purchases. But after Christian Langaard took over as chairman of the board last year, it is considered that what has since come to be called the "Düsseldorf period" is over. It is he who has persuaded the board to let Vigeland stand still. But Vigeland's sculptures are, as I said, powerful food for the public and reviewers. The exhibition only contains horror, according to one reviewer. Yes, there is one of them who supports him publicly, but he is this year's youngest art historian, and his name is Jens Thiis, and he writes: “He is young. Let us heed him, and let us not do his talent injustice. He has dared more than anyone before him.” — Jens Thiis, 1894

Think of the power art critics have had and still have, but back then it required youthful courage to show their support for Vigeland. Vigeland loved traveling alone on his trips because he believed that it gave him more freedom to experience and learn. On his study trips to Berlin, Rome, and Naples, his style does not change that much. He may have matured, but he was still playful and searching.

It is only when he comes to Florence that he is really inspired, and then by the art of antiquity and the Renaissance. The deepest impression is made by Michelangelo, whom he calls "a Titan, a God"; everything he touched became brilliant. Note that here he includes the word "God" in his statements, so perhaps he has already seen the "light" in his way during his visit to Rodin. Well enough about that. Perhaps it was the "Battle of the Centaur" that inspired him to his works such as Hell, version 2:0. As I said, Vigeland loved to travel, and experience new things and he combined this with building his network. He was, among other things, part in Berlin where he spends time with, among others, Edvard Munch, writer Stanisław Przybyszewski, art critic Julius Meier-Graefe, poet and writer Richard Dehmel, Count Harry Kessler who was a diplomat, writer, and patron of modern art, and not least his "favorite critic » Jens Thiis. Lack of money causes Vigeland to undertake the first assignment for Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. In total, he executed 44 sculptures for the Cathedral in the period 1898–1902, and he worked for several periods on site. (I will return to this later)

In 1899 he held his second and last solo exhibition in Christiania, which received rave reviews and cemented his position as one of Norway's leading sculptors.

In the same year, the daughter Else is born, and the child's mother is Laura Mathilde Andersen. Vigeland began a relationship with Laura in 1894 when she modeled for the work with the special name, Helvete. We might wonder where he gets his inspiration for such a grotesque theme. Does that say something about Vigeland's state of mind at this time or is it just something he also just has to have in his collection. I think so when I think back to Rodin's works and especially The Gates of Hell, which has something of the same mystique. Note in particular that Rodin has the Thinker at the top of his gate, but Vigeland has one he called "Satan".

The only thing we can say for sure is that Laura stood, sat, and lay as a model for many of the figures who begged not to go to hell. Just study the work and you will see several young girls' bodies, for which Laura may have been a model. Vigeland's erotic passion is cast in plaster, carved in marble and garnet, and cast in bronze for all eternity. There is also no doubt that this is part of his autobiography.

In 1890, Laura became pregnant again, but by then "Don Gustavo" had already started a new relationship, this time with the 16 or 17-year-old Inga Syvertsen. Despite this, he agreed to marry Laura, in exchange for her filing for divorce immediately after the wedding. I interpret this to mean that it was for her own position that she should have been married and for the children's sake and perhaps a little punishment for all his "messing around" with other girls and women. In March 1901, the child was born, and Laura named him Alf Gustav Vigeland, which Vigeland himself was very unenthusiastic about.

In the middle of all this "familial mess", Inga Syvertsen becomes his assistant in 1902 and for the next 20 years. He takes over an old municipal studio in Hammersborg and at the same time moves from Pilestredet to an apartment in Fredensborgveien1. There is also another story that tells that Inga, who was 19 at the time, moved in as his housekeeper since the divorce had not yet been completed. I have seen that there are several variations on this, but it may have been the correct story and that she only became cohabitant in 1906 when the divorce was a fact. Vigeland had an active program from 1900 to 1908. First, he spends a year in France and England, where he studies Gothic architecture. Then he must return to Norway, because now he has been appointed a knight of the Order of St. Olav in January 1901.

He completed his work on the Fountain Model in 1906, which was exhibited at the Museum of Art and Industry in Christiania that same year. The exhibition is a huge success, with around 30,000 visitors. Vigeland's Fontane is getting a lot of international attention.

Abelmonumentet in the Slottsparken (cc) Ingar Næss

In 1907, Christiania municipality orders the Fountain with plans to build it on Eidsvolls place. This plan was never realized, and the Fountain was later incorporated into Vigeland's park facilities in Frognerparken. The following year, there is the unveiling of the Abel monument in Slottsparken. This was Vigeland's definitive breakthrough as a sculptor and at the same time a great honor. Vigeland had acquired many contacts and was well-recognized among politicians and other decision-makers. This allows him to sign a contract with Christiania municipality, where he gives the municipality everything he has made and will make in the future, in exchange for the municipality building a studio and future museum for his works. In 1920, there were still some challenges in his love life, when he met Ingerid Vilberg and fell head over heels in love with her. Of course, the relationship with Inga Syvertsen came to an abrupt end, and then he married Ingerid Vilberg in 1922. He worked on moving the fountain and the sculpture plant to an area outside the studio, towards Nobels gate. He also added new work, a tall column composed of human bodies, i.e. the first draft of what became the Monolith.

The city council wanted a larger area and offered the municipal property at Frogner, where the Anniversary Exhibition was held in 1914. This was well received by Gustav and he started the project, and in the autumn of 1922, he presented a plan.

This plan showed a large sculpture area west of Frognerdammene. Of course, there was a debate, but in November 1924 the city council approved the plans for the Vigeland plant. Frognerparken was then still being established, and he had of course seen that these two facilities would make him famous far beyond Norway's borders. Vigeland was of course accepted for his proposal, he was supposed to make the politicians proud, and his monumental gate the sculpture park facility from Kirkeveien was financed by Oslo Sparebank, which also wanted some of the credit for this great facility that Oslo would get.

Three blacksmiths were hired and they start work on the gate in a forge right outside the studio. Vigeland was a clever strategist and he had learned not to put forward all the detailed plans at once. He, therefore, waited until 1930 before presenting the final plans with sketches and models for the entire park complex of over 300 acres. The new and exciting thing that was now included was also a great monumental bridge over the Frogner Dam with a total of 64 sculptures that were to adorn this work.

He spends a lot of time completing all the sketches and plans for the Monolith and it is modeled in clay in the period 1924-25. This was to be a work that would adorn the entire park.

Again, it is somewhat interesting and exciting to think that small Norway and partly poor Oslo have politicians who were able to think visionary, and in the long term. After all, it is not just about making such a financial decision, but then in 1931, the city council adopted the plans without changes. It was supposed to be a boost for Oslo and required that it be accompanied by annual grants to finance the plans, which it did. Vigeland himself was not paid, but he was given his studio and paid assistants. He had no problems making a living because the solution was that he sold a large number of sculptures and woodcuts at si. In the years that followed, he made a long series of sculptures, for this new wonderful park, which was to bear his name. Working in parallel, the blacksmiths made several gates to the Monolith Plateau itself. Remember that if they make a single mistake on the 121 figures, everything is ruined. There is zero error tolerance here. In the picture, I wonder what he was thinking. It's tight, but it's safe and then he might fill up a small hole, who knows?

Tight for space in the Monolith (cc) Ingar Næss

The work to complete the facility progressed and the plan was to place all the sculptures out at once, but since the war broke out in 1940, he changed that plan. Vigeland was afraid to store all these sculptures together in one place. The sculptures were therefore installed continuously and during the summer of 1940, all the sculptures on the bridge were completed.

The bridge over the ponds in Vigelandsparken seen from the north (cc) Ingar Næss (Naess)

Vigeland got the idea for the Monolith as early as 1919, he was to create Norway's largest and most unique sculpture. The craziest part was probably that this should be carved out of a rock. As usual, of course, he had no money himself, but his friends in the municipality and in his private network loved his idea. They browsed up to the 17-meter-high sculpture, the Monolith. It is said that this stunt was perhaps what secured Vigeland's place in the history books. The fact that he is hailed as a genius was important so that those who had given him money would be left with honor and fame as well.

That it would take a full 14 years, no one showed at this time. Now it is the case that it was not Gustav himself who carved out the Monolith, but his good helpers. But that's how he had the idea and that's what counts. The fact that many people assisted was a job they took on and got paid for. To be a bit cynical, there was no doubt that they were talented. Then I think of everyone from those who selected the stone in the Iddefjord, those who managed to get this huge piece out of the mountain, those who transported it, and as I said, those who helped carve out the Monolith. NRK journalist Maren Kvamme Hagen has written a great story about, among other things, the three stonemasons.

This is what it looks like inside the shed where the stonemasons lived for 14 long years. Photo: Anders Beer Wilse / Oslo Museum

They are the Dane Karl Kjær, the Swede Nils Jönsson and the Norwegian Ivar Broe. They were all proud and certainly looking forward to being the chosen ones. What they didn't show was that it would take a full 14 years before they were finished. They were proud and professional and showed that not a mistake was acceptable. They did not allow themselves to be affected by that pressure. They worked as a team and took care of each other. They had one goal in mind to make Gustav Vigeland proud of their work. The rest is history! Then the decline begins for Vigeland and in 1940 he is separated from Ingrid Vilberg, and in 1943 he has heart problems and is admitted to Lovisenberg hospital, where he died quietly the same year. He was cremated, and according to his own wish, the urn stands in the tower room of the Vigeland Museum. He became a knight of the 1st class of the Order of St. Olav in 1901 and received the Grand Cross of the same order in 1929. Gustav Vigeland thus did not have time to see the park completed, nor did the grand opening in 1947 of the Vigeland Museum, which was then officially opened to the public.

I recommend everyone to take a walk in the Frognerpark and the Vigelandspark first and finish with a lap inside the museum. It is not many meters away. Feel free to stop at Herregårdskroa for a bite to eat and let this be one of those days you will later tell your friends and family about, and help us appreciate the great sights we have in this fine city of ours.

Alle rettigheter

I wish you a good trip, maybe we'll see each other one day (cc) Ingar Naess (Næss)

Here are tips on places to visit in Oslo. I will introduce them in turn. Sign up for our news update. Log in at the top of the page.

*These are not translated yet!

1. Tryvann, Frognersetreren med Midstubakken og Holmenkollen Kapell. *

2. Roseslottet til Vebjørn Sand. Dette er viktigere enn noen gang, siden det handler om vår frihet og hva vi mister om eller når det bklir krig. Vi må aldri, aldri glemme!

3. Holmenkollen, med Historiske Holmenkollen Park Hotell og Holmenkollen Restaurant.*

4. Frognerparken og Vigelandsparken Et fantastisk park og skulpturanlegg med en spennende historie som du også kan lese mere om på Vigerladsmuseet under. I parken kan du også hygge deg med venner og eller ta en tur innom parkens restauranter og kisosker. *

5. Vigelandsmuseet, Mannen, Kunsten, Parken og Museet! Mannen Gustav Vigeland har i tillegg til sin kunst, også en sterk erotisk historie. - You are here now!


· Det Kongelige Norske Slott

· Oslo Rådhus

· Nasjonalmuseet

· Aker Brygge

· Akershus Festning

· Operaen

· Deichmanske Bibliotek

· The Munch museum - I'm looking forward to this now that I've gotten to know Vigeland. These two probably have many similarities.

· Ekeberg Skulpturpark

· Fredete hus og områder i Oslo

- Fram, Kontiki, Vikingeskip

og ca 50 andre steder å se, oppleve, smake og nyte, lytte til her i Oslo!

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