Published: September 25, 2012
The American-Scandinavian Foundation will present an exhibition tracking the great, medieval narratives of Iceland †known collectively as the Íslendingasögur, or the Sagas of Icelanders †through the Nineteenth Century watercolors of British artist W.G. Collingwood and the personal, documentary photographs of Icelandic artist Einar Falur Ingólfsson. “Saga Sites: Landscapes of the Icelandic Sagas” will be on view September 29⁊anuary 12.
The first of its kind in the United States, the exhibition explores the inimitable visual dialogue forged between Collingwood and Ingólfsson †working more than a century apart †and highlights the significance of the sagas within Iceland’s literary heritage and their enduring cultural inspiration.
“Saga Sites” comprises more than 60 original watercolors and contemporary photographs, all drawn from the artists’ respective journeys to the legendary sites of the sagas –†Collingwood’s in 1897 and Ingólfsson’s 110 years later, using Collingwood’s travels as a “guide.” The exhibition offers a rare opportunity to view the physical environs of these narratives set in the Viking Age, revisited and reinterpreted centuries later.
In the summer of 1897, the British artist and antiquarian W.G. Collingwood (1854‱932) traveled on a three-month tour of the Icelandic saga sites, along with his friend Jón Stefánsson, a scholar of Icelandic literature. Collingwood produced more than 300 watercolors over ten weeks’ time, some of which he and Stefánsson later published in an illustrated account of their expedition titled, A Pilgrimage to the Sagasteads of Iceland (Ulverston: W. Holmes, 1899). More than 200 of Collingwood’s watercolors are now in the National Museum of Iceland’s collection.
When Collingwood embarked on his pilgrimage to Iceland, his purpose was to compile a visual background against which to imagine the sagas, for despite their specificity of narrative detail, little description is given of the locations. In the preface to his book he wrote, “We went out to see the very places where events so familiar in books occurred in reality; and we found that &†[for] every touch of human interest in the sagas †pastoral, romantic or sublime †there was, as still remains, a landscape setting no less sweet, or strange, or stern.”
More than 100 years later, photographer Einar Falur Ingólfsson (b 1966) retraced Collingwood’s steps over a three-year period, from 2007 to 2009, to produce a new visual account of the saga sites in photographs, using Collingwood as his “guide” along the way.
Taken together, the artists’ works form a dialogue: between a foreigner and a native Icelander, between the aesthetic sensibilities of the late Nineteenth and the early Twenty-First Centuries, and between the differing concerns of painter and photographer in seeing and composing landscapes.
Said Ingólfsson: “At first I wanted to compare Collingwood’s watercolors and my photographs and see how objective he had been in his approach. In that process I began to admire the artist’s views more and more, his fascination with the land and the sagas †and how honest he strove to be. I decided to retrace Collingwood’s journey in 1897 in my own way and photograph at many of the saga sites where he had painted during his travels.”
Born in Keflavík, Iceland, Ingólfsson is a photographer, journalist, curator and teacher. He received a degree in comparative literature from the University of Iceland in 1991, and an MFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts, New York, in 1994.
A fully illustrated catalog, Sögustaðir , 2010, published in Iceland by Crymogea, will accompany the exhibition.
The American-Scandinavian Foundation at Scandinavia House is at 58 Park Avenue at 38th Street. For information, www.scandinaviahouse.org , www.amscan.org or 212-779-3587.
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