Sigurjón Ólafsson (1908−1982) was born in Eyrar­bakki, a village at the south coast of Iceland. Trained as a house painter, he entered the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1928, from which he gradu­at­ed in 1935, having sup­plement­ed his studies with a year in Rome. In 1930, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Academy for his sculpture Labourer.

Sigurjón Ólafs­son's largest sculpture project in the thirt­ies was his 3 by 4 metre relief Stacking Salt Fish 1934−35. This relief, a tribute to the Ice­landic work­ing class, ex­hib­its some of the feat­ures of the purist art that was then in vogue, most notably in its round­ed and massive planes.

From early on Sigurjón Ólafsson worked in abstract forms, but he also develop­ed the real­ist­ic style that char­acter­izes his por­trait busts and statues. He has been named one of his century's most im­portant por­trait sculptors. In 1938 he was awarded the honor­able Danish Eckers­berg Prize for the por­trait My Mother, cast of which were im­mediately bought by leading museums in Scand­inav­ia. In 1939, he made his first comp­letely ab­stract sculp­ture Man and Woman, which caused great contro­versy, but is now con­sider­ed a sculp­tural land­mark in Den­mark where Sigurjón is known as a pioneer of spont­ane­ous abstract sculpture. Sigurjón's most chal­leng­ing com­mission was the Vejle sculpture group (LSÓ 1062, LSÓ 1063). The com­mission called for two large cubes to be placed at the centre of the main square of the town of Vejle, flanking a stair­case in front of the city hall. Each cube, almost 2 metres high would feature sym­bolic fig­ures for the town's main oc­cupat­ions, agri­culture, handi­craft, trade and ind­ustry.

Sigurjón Ólafsson returned to Iceland in 1945. As one of the leading artists of the country, he was com­mission­ed to create numer­ous chal­leng­ing pro­jects, among them a 90 m long relief at the Búr­fell hydro­power station. He leaves eight­een public monu­ments in Reykja­vík alone, Emblem of Iceland at Haga­torg and Throne Pillars by the Höfði House perhaps being the best known.

Sigurjón Ólafsson was an experimental artist who brought both classical school­ing and artistic insight to a var­iety of mat­erials from clay and plaster to wood, metal, stone and con­crete. This versa­til­ity has in­spired young­er gener­ati­ons of Ice­landic visual art­ists. His works are found at museums and pri­vate col­lections in Ice­land, Den­mark, Sweden, Italy and the United States.

The Sigur­jón Ólafs­son Museum, sit­uat­ed in the art­ist's former studio at Laugar­nes in Reykj­avík, is dedi­cat­ed to research of the artist's life and art and houses an ex­tens­ive col­lection of his works. A catalogue raisonné of Ólafs­son's work is accesible here.
Sigurjón Ólafsson short CV