Last updated on 10 January 1999
One of the artistic highlights of Norway is the Sculpture Park in Oslo. The park contains 192 sculptures with more than 600 figures, all modeled in full size by Gustav Vigeland without the assistance of pupils or other artists. Vigeland also designed the architectural setting and the layout of the grounds.
The initial point of the park sculptures was the Fountain. A model was
presented in 1907 to the city counsel and Gustav Vigeland was commissioned
to make a Fountain. But as the time passed and not enough money was raised
yet, Vigeland added many more sculptures to the project - granite sculptures
that eventually were placed around the later Monolith. In 1924, the City
of Oslo decided that the whole project should be fulfilled in the Frogner
Park, later called Vigeland Park. In
1931 followed a renewal of the bridge over the Frogner ponds with the addition
of numerous sculptures on the parapets and grounds. For the rest of his
life, Vigeland continued to model new sculptures for the park until his
death in 1943.
Gustav Vigeland was born in 1869 in the south-coast town of Mandal in Norway. Vigeland's artistic talents were first revealed in his drawings and woodcarvings and at the age of fifteen, his father took him to Oslo to apprentice him to a master. The death of his father only two years later forced Vigeland to return to Mandal and relinquish all hopes of becoming a sculptor. In 1888, Vigeland was again back in the capital, this time taking with him a bundle of sketches for statues, groups and reliefs, their motifs mostly deriving from Greek mythology and the Bible. The sculptor, Brynjulf Bergslien, impressed by his drawings, took him into his studio and gave him his first practical training.
The work of Auguste Rodin, seen by Vigeland on visits to the artist's studio in Paris, made a perceptible impact. Rodin's intimate treatment of his relationship between man and woman was also influential in Vigeland's life-long development of this theme.
"I was a sculptor before I was born. I was driven and lashed onward
by powerful forces outside myself. There was no other path, and no matter
how hard I might have tried to find one, I would have been forced back again."
The column, 14.12 meters (46 feet) high carved out of a
single block of stone, consists of 121 figures. Modeled by Vigeland in the
years 1924-25, it took three stone carvers from 1929 to 1943 to complete
the Monolith, just shortly before Vigeland died. The column is completely
covered by human figures in relief, singly or in groups. At the bottom there
are seemingly inert bodies. Above them figures ascent in a spiral, the movement
halting midway and then rising at a fast pace towards the summit which is
covered by small children. Various interpretations of the Monolith have
been suggested: Man's resurrection, the struggle for existence, Man's yearning
for for spiritual spheres, the transcendence of everyday life and cyclic
Surrounding the Monolith are 36 groups in granite depicting the cycle of life. Every sculpture includes at least two figures depicting Man in a variety of typical human situations and relationships. A man and woman sit facing one another with a little child between them. Children play, young men and women dream and embrace. Old age is represented in several groups. The groups show a certain variation in composition and form. Initially, Vigeland wanted to retain the volume of the granite block. The figures from this early period are broad and simple with a minimal of detail. Later, however, he introduced greater differentiation of composition and figure style and more space was allowed between figures. Although a skilled carver himself, Vigeland did not sculpt directly in granite. He modeled the groups in full size and employed professional artisans to do the time-consuming work of transferring the original models into stone.
The Fountain is the earliest sculpture unit in the park. In the center of the basin, six giants hold the large saucer-shaped vessel aloft and from it a curtain of water spills down around them. The men, representing different ages, may be interpreted as toiling with the burden of life and the effort expended in lifting the heavy vessel varies. Water, a universal symbol of fertility, is used within the fountain complex in a meaningful juxtaposition with the twenty "tree groups" on the surrounding parapet, the latter evidently symbolizing the "tree of life."
The combination of human beings and trees in two meter high sculptures
is one of Vigeland's most original concepts. The tree groups represent a
romantic expression of Man's relationship to nature. The also form the setting
for life's evolving stages, stretching from childhood and adolescence through
adulthood to old age and death.
|No. 4: 3 little girls standing around a tree||No. 5: Girl gliding down between the branches||No. 12: Baby sitting in the trees||No. 17: Old woman and small boy|
|1. Swarm of 18 babies (geniuses)||8. Man standing behind woman||15. Angry man chasing children|
|2. Boy sitting in a tree, listening||9. Man embracing woman||16. Man clinging to the tree|
|3. Two boys climbing||10. Man standing under the tree: "The Dreamer"||17. Old woman and small boy|
|4. Three little girls standing around a tree||11. Woman sitting on animal-like tree||18. Old man and boy|
|5. Girl gliding down between the branches||12. Baby sitting in the tree||19. Old man sitting, clinging to the tree|
|6. Young woman leaning out of the tree||13. Man and woman plunging downwards, entwined by branches||20. Skeleton sitting in the tree|
||14. Man climbing the tree, his body horizontal|
58 bronze sculptures on granite parapets (1926-1933) stand on either side of the Bridge portraying people of widely differing ages, although there is less emphasis on old age than others in the park. Many characteristic representations of children are noticeable. Dominant motifs among the groups are the relationships between man and woman and between adults and children. In one sculpture you find a bronze wheel enclosing a man and woman linked together in a rotating movement. The circle being a well-known symbol of eternity, the sculpture may indicate the constant attraction and love between the sexes or a figurative version of the Eastern symbol of "Yin and Yang."
|No. 20||No. 19|
|No. 18||No. 16|
|No. 15||No. 12|
|No. 9||No. 6|
|No. II||No. 4|
58 Figures and Groups in Bronze on the Bridge
|1. Boy with baby on his head||21. Man carrying woman in front of him||41. Man and woman dancing|
|2. Man carrying two babies||22. Young woman with clenched fists||42. Woman with hands behind her back|
|3. Man swinging boy||23. Young woman, head bent to the left||43. Woman with arms at her side|
|4. Woman with baby on her arm||24. Young woman, dancing||44. Man tilting woman over his head|
|5. Two girls behind each other||25. Man, hands faixed behind his neck||45. Man and woman against each other|
|6. Man running with a boy on his back||26.Man carrying boy around his neck||46. Angry little boy, crying|
|7. Girl facing woman||27. Man playing with four children (geniuses)||47. Man inside a ring|
|8. Girl with her hands on her head||28. Old man walking with little boy||48. Little girl, arms stretched out|
|9. Man lifting girl||29. Man with both hands on his chest||49. Man standing behind woman|
|10. Young man, hands behind his back||30. Girl with baby on her head||50. Man running|
|11. Man with arms crossed on his chest||31. Woman with baby in her arms||51. Woman with arms above her head|
|12. Old man hitting boy||32. Woman lifting baby in front of her||52. Woman laughing|
|13. Woman, hands in front of mouth||33. Little girl standing behind woman||53. Woman jumping up on a man|
|14. Elderly man and young man||34. Two boys looking up||54. Man with baby in his arms|
|15. Man lifting woman in front of him||35. Woman carrying sleeping child||55. Boy standing in front of man|
|16. Woman standing behind man||36. Girl standing in front of woman||56. Man lifting elderly man|
|17. Little girl, laughing||37. Young woman, hands on her hips||57. Old man with boy on his back|
|18. Man and woman inside a ring||38. Two boys running||58. Man looking to the right|
|19. Little boy looking to the side||39. Man with hands on his hips|
|20. Man standing behind woman||40. Young man with arms at his sides|
After finishing the 58 sculptures for the bridge in the early 1930s, Vigeland completed a small children's circle which is placed at one end of the bridge next to the small lake. In 1934, he completed the large bronze "Wheel of Life," which is composed of figures swirling in an eternal circle.
Wrought iron gates surround the Monolith Plateau and Vigeland park.
Those who visit the park may see the original full-size plaster casts to the sculptures in bronze and granite in the Vigeland Museum, which is situated five minutes south of the park. In the museum you will also find Vigeland's early works, those which are mostly influenced by August Rodin, and his woodcuts.
See also "The Little Hot-Head", from the earliest sketch (1901) to the finished work (1928-1930).
Thanks go to Anne Høegh Brand of the Vigeland Museum for providing additional information on Gustav Vigeland.
Books, Catalogues, Posters, Videos, Woodcut Reproductions, Slides and Postcards can be purchased directly from the Vigeland Museum Store (FAX 22 44 65 37). A recent price list (prices subject to change) is available for download. This site has no affiliation with the Vigeland Museum.
1. "Embrace of Life: The Sculpture of Gustav Vigeland." Text by Nathan Cabot Hale. Photos by David Finn. H.N. Abrams, New York, 1969.
2. "Gustav Vigeland Sculpture Park and Museum in Oslo." Normanns Kunstforlag A/S, Oslo, Norway. 1993
OTHER VIGELAND-RELATED SITES ON THE WEB:
Eros in the art of Gustav Vigeland: Gustav Vigeland's erotic visions
Vigelands Skulpturepark - Oslo: A nice Vigeland site
The Sculpture of Gustav Vigeland: Wonderful photos by Jeffrey Howe
The Album: Vigeland Park - A nice site
Gustav Vigeland- Recent photos of the sculpture park
Vigeland Park Sculpture: Nice photo of Vigeland Park sculpture
Shin's Photo Gallery: Norway - Photos of Vigeland Park and Norway
Vigeland Gardens: A snapshot of the central fountain
Verkommen til Vigelandsparken: Historical information - in Norwegian
Vigeland Park, Oslo: Also contains nice photos of the Monolith
Survival in Norway: Hiking tour of Norway
Virtual Sightseeing: A Walking Tour of Oslo