Sculpture had never been my thing. Every time I visited an art gallery or museum, I would bypass any sculptures that were displayed, barely giving them a glance as I headed straight to the paintings or photographs in the room. But after my trip to Florence and my date with Michelangelo’s David – where I cried when I met him – I’ve gained a new respect for sculpture.
In Oslo, I once again found myself thoroughly enjoying sculpture as I explored Frogner Park, Oslo’s largest city park – covering 45 hectares (111 acres) of rolling hills, dotted with large trees and a pond that ducks call home. Present within the park is Vigelandsparken (Vigeland Park), a permanent sculpture installation completed between 1939 and 1949. It is the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist, containing the lifework of the Norwegian artist, Gustav Vigeland (1869-1943). More than 200 of his sculptures are present in the park and he was also in charge of the design and architectural layout of the park.
This park was so much fun to walk through! I hadn’t read up on anything about it beforehand, so the statues – all of nude men, women, and children in playful or thought-provoking poses – were unexpected and many of them made me laugh.
One of the features of the park is a 100 m long and 15 m wide bridge, lined by 58 bronze sculptures of people of various ages and genders. On the day I was there, the park was white with snow and all of the statues were coated with frost. Each statue has a personality of its own and human emotion is well-captured – joy, play, love and the relationships between people are common motifs of Vigeland’s work.
The best-known sculpture in the park is located on the bridge and is shown in the photo above. Named Sinnataggen, the Angry Boy, he garners quite a bit of attention. His left hand is shiny from the wearing away of the patina due to constant hand-holding – everyone wants to hold Sinnataggen’s hand for good luck. Which really isn’t good for the preservation of the statue, so park officials aren’t too happy about it. And Sinnataggen doesn’t look happy either – that’s quite a temper tantrum he’s got going! I read somewhere that Vigeland found inspiration for this sculpture by offering chocolate to a little boy, then taking it away to get his reaction. I don’t know if this is true, but I know that’s what I would look like if someone took my chocolate away.
Below the bridge is a circular area displaying 8 statues of very small children and in the center, balanced on a column, is the figure of an unborn child. Considering the weather, I named it “The Frozen Fetus”. Like it or not, that’s what he/she looked like! It was actually my favorite statue in the entire park.
At the highest point in the park and reaching towards the sky is the Monolith Plateau. The Monolith is carved from a single block of granite, stands at 14.12 meters, and incorporates 121 intertwined figures. The entire structure (including the circular plateau) stands at 17.3 meters high and placed around the circular stairs are other statue groups – men, women, and children – displaying relationships among friends, parents and children, and lovers.
The Fountain is another feature of the park and it consists of 20 tree groups made of bronze, surrounding a fountain. Hanging out beneath the trees are more people of all ages, sitting on limbs or doing acrobatic moves. This work represents the cycle of life, from cradle to grave, which is the common theme throughout the park.
The Wheel of Life is at the far end of the park. It’s a symbol of eternity – a wreath of men, women, and children clinging to each other. Vigeland found the creation of this statue to be technically challenging, but was pleased with the result. His response after its completion was, “I have never been as accomplished as I am now.”
Also present within the park is a cafe and a museum dedicated to Gustav Vigeland. In this museum, you can see all the original plaster models created by Vigeland for the bronze and granite sculptures found in the park. I didn’t make it to the museum, but I wish I had. Gustav Vigeland dedicated the final twenty years of his life to making his vision of this sculpture garden into a reality. He lived in a studio close to Frogner Park, which is now the museum, to model his sculptures, in full size, in clay. He then let professional craftsmen do the carving in granite and casting in bronze.
Unfortunately, Vigeland died before the completion of his sculpture installation. But if he were alive today, I have no doubt that his journey – from the wrought-iron front gates, along the tree-lined path, across the bridge overlooking the glassy pond, passing the fountain and climbing the steps of the Monolith, to gaze up at the human figures struggling to reach the heavens – would put a smile on his face.
It certainly put one on mine.