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Gustav Vigeland

known for producing works revealing the deep despair which he experienced intensely

Gustav Vigeland

Gustav Vigeland was born in Mandal, Norway, on April 11, 1869, the son of a master carpenter. As a boy he showed exceptional ability as a woodcarver and got an apprenticeship in Oslo at the age of 15, and he soon realized that he was destined to be a sculptor.

In 1888 Vigeland presented a bundle of drawings for sculptures to sculptor Brynjulf Bergslien, who was impressed enough to help him both financially and with his work. In the autumn of 1889, Vigeland made his debut at the Norwegian State Exhibition with the sculpture Hagar and Ismael (below).

Hagar and Ismael

In January 1891 Vigeland went to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he had the opportunity to work in the studio of Vilhelm Bissen. He received a state grant which enabled him to remain in Denmark until the end of the year. It was at this time he created his first work carrying the stamp of his own personality, Accursed (below).


In 1893 Vigeland spent several months in Paris, during which time he made several visits to the studio of Auguste Rodin. In 1895 he visited Berlin and Florence; in 1896 he returned to Florence and also visited other cities in Italy.

Many of the works produced by Vigeland during these years reveal the deep despair which he experienced intensely. Conceptions of death recur in a number of his works, and his portrayals range from melancholy and desolation to deep affection and ecstasy of the embrace.

Although many of Norway's art critics and authors were highly enthusiastic about his sculptures, Vigeland found it nearly impossible to make a living as a creative sculptor on his own, so in 1897 he took a job as sculptor in the restoration of Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. By 1902, however, he had grown tired of creating sculptures of lizards and dragons and ceased working for the cathedral.

Between 1900 and 1910 Vigeland created a number of portrait busts of and monuments to prominent Norwegians such as Henrik Ibsen, N.H. Abel, Henrik Wergeland and Camilla Collett, which established him as Norway's most talented sculptor.

In 1902 Oslo municipal authorities lent Vigeland a run-down studio in which to work. When the building was torn down to make room for a library in 1921, Vigeland entered into an agreement with the Oslo City Council in which the city would furnish him with a new studio in return for Vigeland donating all his future sculptures, drawings and woodcuts to the city. One of the results of this agreement was the wealth of statuary in Vigeland Park. The studio was his home until his death in 1943; it is now the home of the Vigeland Museum.

Oslo, Norway
Auguste Rodin

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This page was last updated on 04/10/2018.