Listasafn Íslands: Discovering Iceland’s National Gallery of Art

  • by Yanshu
  • Reykjavik
  • 5 Jan 2024

The National Gallery of Iceland, known as Listasafn Íslands in Icelandic, serves as a central repository for Icelandic visual arts. Established in 1884, it houses an extensive collection of artwork, showcasing the nation's rich artistic heritage from the 19th century to contemporary works.

Listasafn Íslands: Discovering Iceland’s National Gallery of Art

History of Listasafn Íslands

Founded in October 1884 in Copenhagen by Björn Bjarnarson when Iceland was under Denmark’s rule, Listasafn Íslands, or the National Gallery of Iceland, has a storied past that reflects Iceland’s cultural heritage. Initially an independent institution, it served as a repository and a beacon for Icelandic art.

By 1916, the Alþingi—Iceland’s parliament—took a decisive step by integrating the gallery with the National Museum of Iceland. However, just over a decade later in 1928, the establishment was reorganized under the direct administration of the Ministry of Education through the Law on Education.

Here, you’ll find a summary of Listasafn Íslands’ journey through time:

  • 1884: Establishment by Björn Bjarnarson.
  • 1916-1928: Operates as a part of the National Museum.
  • 1928: Moves under the Ministry of Education.

The gallery is not only a home to an extensive collection of artworks but a part of Iceland’s national identity. With each passing decade, Listasafn Íslands has fortified its position as the custodian of Icelandic art, fostering appreciation and understanding amongst generations.

Permanent collection of Listasafn Islands.

Listasafn Íslands, or the National Gallery of Iceland, conserves an extensive collection of artwork that represents the progression of Icelandic art. This section acquaints you with the diverse arrays of permanent and temporary exhibits, celebrated artists, and the distinctive satellite exhibition space, The House of Collections.

Permanent Collection

The Permanent Collection forms the core of Listasafn Íslands, focusing primarily on Icelandic Art from the 19th and 20th centuries. It houses a treasury of pieces by seminal figures of Icelandic visual arts, such as Jóhannes S. Kjarval and Georg Guðni, offering you an opportunity to engage with the arts that have shaped the nation’s cultural identity.

Among the myriad artworks representing the vibrant creative spirit of Icelandic artists and the Icelandic culture, three personal favorites of mine include:

Við Þvottalaugarnar / Washwoman at the Hot Springs, 1931 by Kristin Jonsdottir (1988 – 1959): It is a captivating painting created by Icelandic artist Kristín Jónsdóttir in 1931. This artwork is a notable example of Jónsdóttir’s talent and her dedication to depicting everyday life in Iceland during her time.

Summer Evening” by Þórarinn B. Þorláksson: Þórarinn B. Þorláksson was a prominent Icelandic painter known for his landscapes and depictions of Icelandic nature. “Summer Evening” is one of his renowned works, which captures the serene beauty of an Icelandic summer evening.

Another piece of art that displays the core of Iceland is Gunnlaugur Scheving’s sailors. In it, he depicted the iconic sailor’s hat out in the sea, working fearlessly and fiercely on the rocking boat against huge Atlandtic waves.

Icelandic Artist, Hulda Hakon, talking about why she likes the painting by Þórarinn Benedikt Þorláksson.
Icelandic Artist, Hulda Hakon, talking about why she likes the painting by Þórarinn Benedikt Þorláksson. [Photo credit to Yanshu Li]

Temporary Exhibitions

Temporary Exhibitions at Listasafn Íslands serve as a platform for contemporary Icelandic and international artists. In these rotating exhibits, you might encounter the innovative works of Egill Sæbjörnsson or the collaborative creations by various artists, providing you with fresh and dynamic artistic expressions.

Notable Artists

The museum celebrates numerous Notable Artists who have made significant contributions to the art world. Among them, the influential Andrew John Murray, the expressive Anna Jóhannsdóttir, and the experimental Björn Steinar Pálmason have all had their art featured, cementing their place in the annals of Icelandic art history.

Art display set up close to one of the iconic window at Listasafn Islands. [Photo credit to Yanshu Li]

The House of Collections

The House of Collections is a unique annex to Listasafn Íslands, aimed at offering a more intimate setting for art appreciation. Here, you can explore dedicated exhibitions of select artists like Helga Kjartansdóttir and Ingibjörg Jóhannsdóttir, allowing closer contemplation of their work.

By visiting these collections and exhibitions, you immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Icelandic visual heritage and contemporary artistry.

At the National Gallery of Iceland – Listasafn Íslands, you can immerse yourself in an array of educational programs and events designed to enrich your understanding and appreciation of art. Whether you’re a student, art enthusiast, or a professional seeking to deepen your knowledge, there’s something tailored just for you.

  • Guided Tours: Discover the gallery’s collections through customized guided tours. These tours cater to various group types and interests, including school groups, friends, co-workers, and tourists. You have the opportunity to request a tour that aligns with your specific area of interest or educational needs.
  • Workshops for Families: Aimed at engaging people of all ages, the museum offers workshops that are both educational and fun. These events are free and provide an excellent chance for families to connect over creative activities.
  • Educational Programmes: If you’re looking to dive deeper, the education programs offered range from short courses to more intensive studies. The programming is often refreshed to reflect current exhibitions and the latest art trends.
  • Research Opportunities: For those involved in academic research, the gallery extends access to its comprehensive library and archives. It is a resource-rich environment that can support your scholarly pursuits.

These initiatives highlight Listasafn Íslands’s commitment to education and public engagement, ensuring that art remains accessible and relevant to everyone. Keep an eye on their upcoming exhibitions and events to stay informed about the latest educational opportunities.

When planning your visit to the National Gallery of Iceland, known locally as Listasafn Íslands, keep in mind the key practical details such as opening hours, ticket prices, location, and amenities like the museum shop to enhance your experience.

Opening Hours

Listasafn Íslands operates from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Note that these timing may change on holidays or special occasions, so it’s recommended to check the official website before your visit.

Ticket Pricing

For entry to the museum, tickets are priced as follows:

  • Adults: ISK 1,500
  • Students and Seniors (67+): ISK 750
  • Children (Under 18): Free admission

These prices reflect the commitment to make art accessible to everyone.

The Gift Shop

Enhance your visit by stopping at the Safnbúð, the gallery gift shop. Here, you can find a selection of art reproductions, books, and unique souvenirs to remember your visit by. The Safnbúð is located within the museum and follows the same opening hours.

The museum is situated in the heart of Reykjavik, making it easily reachable by public transportation or car.

  • Address: Fríkirkjuvegi 7, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

Facilities are designed to be accessible to visitors with mobility challenges, ensuring everyone can enjoy the art collections.

Frequently Asked Questions about Listasafn Íslands

Visiting the National Gallery of Iceland can prompt a few common inquiries regarding transportation options and the available services.

Can I get to the National Gallery of Iceland using public transportation?

Yes, you can reach the National Gallery of Iceland using Reykjavík’s efficient public transportation system. Buses regularly pass through the city, allowing you to disembark near the gallery, which is conveniently located in the heart of Reykjavík.

Are there guided tours available at the National Gallery of Iceland?

Guided tours are offered at the National Gallery of Iceland, providing an in-depth exploration of the Icelandic and international art on display. These tours are a great way to enhance your understanding of the exhibits and the rich art heritage housed within.

About the author
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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