As a sculptor, Gustav Vigeland struck an interesting deal with Oslo. They bought him a spacious and comfortable studio in a central park and Vigeland donated all his created artworks to the city. Over twenty years Vigeland carved over 200 statues involving many hundreds of human figures – both men and women of all ages in various emotional states and pursuits (running, sitting, jumping, gathering together, hugging and fighting) and all without a stitch of clothing.
In today’s shrill world, prudish countries would be up in arms and censors and do-gooders tripping over themselves trying to ban the artworks and decrying the polluting of everyone’s minds. However, Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park(as part of the huge Frogner Park complex) provides an oasis of tranquillity and a peaceful ambiance of awe-inspiring sculpture. People wander quietly admiring the skill of the works, pointing subtle details in individual characters – each their own character and lifeform.
A central path follows the main highlights of Vigeland’s work starting from the striking bronze gates topped with old style lanterns. The Bridge crosses a small lake and is flanked by numerous lifesized figures both single and grouped, giving the first look at the detail of the works. The granite is incredibly smooth.
Even in close-up, the human detail comes to life. The facial expressions, the angle of the hands and the general pose all revealing the mood and personality of the individual statues. The most famous statue called The Angry Boy (sinnataggen) is on the bridge, rubbed to a glossy finish by decades of admirers, though I struggle to see why this statue stands out above others.
Capturing the human spirit through the cycle of life, the Fountain shows man’s journey from cradle to grave. All male, it shows the eternal cycle of life from childhood through adulthood to old age and death, captured under gushing water. Just past the fountain is my favourite statue at the high point of the park – the Monolith (top photo). Intertwined up a 15 metre statue are a chaotic emotional tangle of lean and naked humanity all remarkably carved from a single piece of granite. While some figures rest peacefully in this tower of twisted torsos, others appear to be clambering towards the top of the obelisk in an internal battle for supremacy.
Beyond the superb carving, it is Vigeland’s ability to capture the full range of human expressions covering sadness, anger, joy and laughter across the hundred of sculptures that makes the displays so mesmerising.
Initially the artist’s home and art studio, the neighbouring Vigeland Museum contains numerous partial sculptures, photographs, plaster works and sketches related to his final vision and creation. It brings the artist himself to life and is well worth the slight detour after wandering the park.
The statues were first cast in clay (all by Vigeland) before three sculptors translated the works into granite and bronze over a fourteen year period. The initial display must have stunned the local population with its scale, variety and enshrining of human life.
On a visit to Oslo, Vigeland Park is a highlight among Oslo’s natural surrounds, museums and castles well worthy of a couple of hours of cultured and contemplative roaming among the greenery and Gustav Vigeland’s remarkable artistic commentary on human life.
Note: Discover more about Vigeland Sculpture Park on the official site.