Tuesday, 20 April 2010

What to see: Statues of King Olav, the Vigeland Museum, Oslo

As mentioned recently the sculptor Olav Orud has been chosen to create the statue of King Olav V which will stand close to the City Hall in Oslo. Until 9 May all the projects entered into the contest are displayed in the Vigeland Museum and seeing them all together does in a way help one understand why it has taken three rounds and nearly twenty years to settle on an acceptable monument.
Making a statue of a much-loved king still remembered my most people is naturally not the easiest thing to do, as people will except it to resemble the man they remember and to capture him like he was. And this is what many of the sculptors who took part in the competition have failed to do.
The winner, Olav Orud, has called his sculpture “Mann og bauta” (first photo). It is a fairly conventional statue, showing King Olav in an ordinary suit, holding his hat behind his back. Orud has chosen to let the statue stand next to its plinth on which will be engraved items reminding us of skiing and sailing, as well as images of King Olav’s two arrivals in Norway (in 1905 and 1945).
Letting the King stand next to the plinth was a solution also chosen by Kristian Blystad (second photo), who also won a prize for his suggestion. Another sculptor, whose name I did not get, chose to let the King stand next to a throne in the sculpture titled “Kongelig sete” (third picture).
The idea of the King descending towards the people has been used for statues of King Olav both in Trondheim and in Asker and Lise Fuglevik tried something similar for her proposal, called “Kongetrappen” (fourth photo). Ferdinand Wyller on the other hand, in his work called “Innviet til, avskåret fra” (fifth photo), chose to show the King rising from the earth.
Most of the artists have chosen to portray King Olav in civilian clothes – among them Henning E. Espedal (sixth picture), which I found among the better ones, and Håkon Anton Fagerås (photo 7). The latter is inspired by the famous photo of King Olav looking at a cat, but the statue is almost a replica of Stephan Sinding’s monument of Henrik Ibsen outside the National Theatre. Also Tore Bjørn Skjølsvik, in his prize-winning project “Kongens nærvær” (eighth photo) has stressed the informal side of King Olav.
Per Ung, one of the most famous of Norwegian sculptors, has on the other hand chosen to present King Olav in military uniform (ninth photo), but I cannot say the old master has succeeded this time. Also Frode Mikal Lillesund (tenth photo) opted for a uniform for his sculptor which is titled “Kong Olav V – slik vi husker ham” (“King Olav V – as we remember him”), which one wonders if is a joke, as I doubt many remember King Olav as a cabaret artist.
Most of the monuments are rather traditional in form, but there are some exceptions. One of them is “Kongen blandt [sic] folket” by Arne Mæland (photo 11), which partly resembles Knut Steen’s rejected monument with the King emerging from a plinth consisting of his people. Less conventional is also Gunn Harbitz’s monumental medallion (“Kongespeil”) (twelfth photo).
All in all there were nearly 50 projects entered into the contest. Several of them are horrendous and generally it seems many artists have found it difficult to capture the King people remember. Having seen them all I would say that Olav Orud’s statue, although a bit too conventional, is indeed one of the best choices after all.


  1. A royal uniform does not give the same impression as a cabaret artist. Lillesund´s sculpture "Kong olav slik vi husker ham" (...as we remeber him) is one of the few that actually pictures the outgoing personality of our king Olav. Most of the others are portraits of inward depressive persons and few of them even look like king olav. The base of this sculpture is also the most interesting, Here on the reliefs is the peoples King shown in the most familiar happenings from his life. as king of the norwegian people. by the way; -the detail-portrait i absolutely the best.

  2. Please respect the only rule concerning comments at this blog - that they should be signed. Concerning the statues I could hardly disagree more with you. Lillesund's proposal was one of the weakest entered into the competition - it is hard to decide if it is a bad joke or simply ridiculuous. A royal uniform does not improve it an inch. The best Norwegian word to describe it would be "fjollete".

  3. Trond Noren Isaksens bedømmelse av min skulptur var vell krass i mine ører.
    Jeg håper forøvrig herr Isaksen ikke sitter i noen skulpturjury i fremtiden.
    Her er link til et bilde av første andre tredje og "siste" plassering fra konkurransen, så får enhver dømme for seg selv:


  4. I guess many artists would consider a negative opinion of their own work "vell [sic] krass". But although you may think (and many will disagree with you) that the face of your sculpture resembles King Olav more than the faces of other sculptures, portraiture is not simply about creating something which resembles the subject as closely as possible - the artwork also has to say something more.

    And you have entirely failed to capture King Olav as he was and as he is remembered. What struck me when I saw it was that it seems as if you might have been influenced by the statue of Leif Juster here in Oslo, as the man appearing in your sculpture looks more like a cabaret artist than a king.

    And you may argue (I suspect the first, anonymous comment might also have been written by you?) that he is wearing a uniform, but that is really no argument. King Olav was a stickler for correctness and etiquette, particularly when it came to such issues as uniforms, and would thus never have been swinging his uniform hat around like another showman. Thus your sculpture represents a significant departure from what he was like.

    As for your hope that I will never sit on the jury of a sculpture competition it seems that would not have made much of a difference to you, as the actual jury apparently did not like your sculpture any more than I did. There were many proposals which were much better than yours and I suppose you will just have to live with that and the outcome of the jury's verdict, no matter how disappointing it might be to you. For my part I hope you will strive to achieve a better understanding of the character of the people you may try to sculpt in the future.

  5. I am not trying to make you (Isaksen) like my sculpture. But as your blog is public, and it comes up when one googles my name, I just wanted to give a fuller perspective for the readers.

    After reading your last comment, I also want to express that I find your form quite arrogante and hostile. And if my interpretation of Olav does not fit your picture, it´s OK with me, because I find him as quite opposite of you.

    But you have proved that you are King of your blog. I just hoped that you had humility to admit that your sculpture insight was a bit limited.

    To show you that i would have no problem interpreting your character in a sculpture I want to share with you a picture of another sculpture. Its actually called ”Peer Gynt the Emperor” but in this case I could call it ”Isaksen – King of his Blog”.

    Link: http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4092/4993521088_e356099dc9_b.jpg

  6. Thank you, how charming. I have no problem with you wanting to give a background for your statue proposal, but sadly you show yourself incapable of dealing with criticism of your work in a serious way.

    I know your earlier sculpture "Joker", which was quite good and seems to have received generally positive reviews, but of course that does not mean that everything else you make is as good. And judging from the King Olav sculpture at least, it might seem that portraiture of actual people is not your strongest side as a sculptor.

    Even now - long after the competition is over, a winner was chosen and your proposal fell through - you insist that your sculpture was the one whose face resembled King Olav the most. But portraiture is about more than creating the best likeness, it is also about capturing the essence of the soul. And your proposal for a sculpture of King Olav failed to do so.

    It might be that YOU remember King Olav waving his hat frivolously around as a cabaret artist or the director of a circus, but the title "as WE remember him" seems far-fetched. In that case your memory seems to fool you and you have not really understood King Olav, who would never have behaved in that manner. I have spent years on researching and writing his biography, which included discussing him with some of those closest to him, but I guess that no matter what you would not have the humility to admit that anyone might know more about him and his character than yourself. As for the physical likeness you are so keen about it could also be pointed out that the body of your sculpture appears taller and thinner than King Olav actually was.

    I am sure you are convinced that your statue was the best (and so are probably also the other sculptors who took part), but the outcome of the competition showed that not only I, but a competent jury far from shared your view of your own work. I can understand that you are disappointed that your work did not win favour in the competiton. But rather than carrying a grudge against the critics you should try to learn something from it which may benefit your development as a sculptor and help you succeed better in the future.

    Instead you launch personal attacks on the characters of the critics, which seems quite immature. You may find my form "arrogant and hostile", so you probably think the same about the jury which rejected your work, and I will not bother to state what I think of YOUR form.

    I wish you luck in your future career, but as for now you will simply have to learn to live with the fact that your sculpture did not win this competition simply because it was not the best entry.

  7. Thank you for wishing my career a better future.
    Its actually going well already. Right now I´m working on another king (Harald Hårfagre). I promise that i will not ask for your comment on this one. ;-)

    I have no problem accepting that my sculpture did not win the competition. Every rejection is hard to take for an artist (because he has to get personally involved for the art to be good), but this one is far behind me.

    The reason for my late comment, was that people have told me that your comment comes up when they google my name.
    Therefore I felt it was duty to "fill in" what I think was essential.

    I apologize for attacking you personally. That was a spontaneous reaction, and I admit that it was defensive.

    but for the record;
    I still find your comment; "...waiving his hat frivolously around as a cabaret artist or the director of a circus." unfitting the sculpture I made (althoug I understand that my interpretation of Olav is not the same as everyone else), and I hope some of your readers will also find some essence of Olav´s soul in the portrait. Because it is a good portrait.

  8. This website may indeed turn up when googling you, as your name is mentioned in connection with your suggestion for a statue. And therefore I consider it only fair that you are allowed to state your views as comments, so that they now appear together with my text.

    To me art is not about liking or not liking. There are works of art which are not to my personal taste, but in which I nevertheless see artistic value. When it comes to your proposed statue of King Olav it is to me the pose in general that ruins it, as it conveys a behaviour uncharacteristic of the late king.

    I regret that my view on this upset you, and although I do not mind a certain temperature in a debate I find personal attacks based on the fact that my view on the merits of your work does not correspond with your own uncalled for and counter-productive for your own case. But I accept the apology and suggest that we end the discussion by agreeing to disagree on your interpretation of King Olav.

  9. I do not mind a certain temperature myself, but I always want to end an argument respectfully, so I want to thank you for posting my comments on your blog, and for spending time anwering them. Considering the length of your responses, I would guess you has a bit fun as well.

  10. No, not fun, really - I find discussions more interesting when they are kept at a polite and to the point level.


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