Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885–1972). Kjarval specialized in painting Icelandic landscapes including mountains, glaciers and lava formations, capturing the beauty and mystic of the land. He is credited for teaching Icelanders to appreciate the splendour of their own natural environment. If you look closely at some of Kjarval's pieces, they seem to be a cross between cubism and pointillism.
The most impressive works on display are a series of black and white works called "The Course of Life" which Kjarval painted on the wall surfaces, radiators, trim and floor of his attic studio. The description for the murals indicate that they display Kjarval's usual themes of landscape, working life and fantasy. When I first saw the murals, I thought it was a depiction of Vikings, especially based on the mural with what seemed like Viking ships. Looking closely, you can see that many of the images are comprised of a bunch of black and white diamonds, again leaning towards the Cubist style. One interesting fact from Wikipedia is that Kjarval is featured on the Icelandic 2000 króna banknote.
The last art museum, Hafnarhus, formerly functioned as the harbour's warehouse and fisheries office but parts of it look more like Kilmainham Prison in Dublin. We were confused about where this museum was, even when we were standing right in front of it, since we were looking for something called "Hafnarhus" but the sign on the building read "Listasafn" (which we later found out meant Art Gallery). It now displays the works of pop artist Erró (nee Guðmundur Guðmundsson 1932), the only one of the three artists that is still living. Erró's early work deal with themes of oppression and include images of skeletons, corpses and other grotesque figures. His piece "Death of an Art Collector" reminds me of a ghoulish version of the iconic "Dogs Playing Poker" painting.
Erró went through a robotics phase where his paintings, sculptures, photographs and documentary films all seemed to deal with human body parts adorned with mechanical components.
Erró is best known for his work in collage, where he re-assembles imagery from a variety of popular sources including advertisements, comics, and posters to create a new piece. He mixed iconic works by famous artists like Picasso or Van Gogh, as well as photo clippings from magazines with cartoon images including ones from fairy tales, children stories and Disney characters.
Right next to the Hafnarhus gallery was the Grofarhus Museum of Photography where an exhibition called "Vanishing Culture - West Fjords" by Olarfur J. Engilbertsson, which consisted of beautiful black and white photos of scenery and life in this large peninsula in northwestern Iceland. It was interesting seeing what Iceland is like in the cold, stark winter. I can only imagine how cold it might be, since I was cold in their July "summer".
We had some interesting dining experiences in Iceland. Surprisingly the most famous eating establishment in Reykjavik is the Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hot dog stand, reputed to serve the best hot dog in Europe. The steamed sausages are lamb-based, mixed with pork and beef, and are served in a bun with a choice of condiments including ketchup, sweet mustard, remoulade, crisp fried onion and raw onion. We had an excellent meal at Icelandic Fish and Chips, starting with a mesclun salad with orange slices, spring onion, spiced sunflower seeds with a lemon vinaigrette. Our fish (cod and redfish), as well as pieces of cauliflower and broccoli were all perfectly breaded with a coating similar to Japanese panko, and accompanied with roast potatoes and three sauces that we selected from the long list of choices.
At Islenski Barinn, we started with deep-fried cod skin, and a green salad in a jar with blueberries, skyr, pickled red onion, herbs and the tiniest slivers of grilled puffin meat. For my main course, I had the grilled fin whale, bacon glace, mashed potatoes, and a bacon & herb salad. The puffin and whale tasted a bit like gamey beef steaks and were moist, tender and tasty.
For dessert, we shared Icelandic pancakes, with whipped cream, salty caramel sauce & nut crumble, and a hot chocolate. I had forgotten to bring my reading glasses to the restaurant and was squinting and holding the menu at arms length towards the light of the window. The waiter took pity on me and brought over an entire bucket full of reading glasses so that I could borrow one. What a great idea!
Saegreifinn Seafood Baron was another unique place to eat, as it specialized in skewers of seafood, cooked on demand. We went into what felt like a fish store, reviewed the choice of skewers, made our selections, then waited for the grilled skewers to be brought out to us as we sat on wooden bench tables. We ordered bowls of lobster bisque, whale steaks, as well as skewers of pieces of grilled scallop and chunks of trout.
We thought we were eating like Icelanders when we tried puffin and whale but on a walking tour of the city, we learned that this was no longer part of the local diet and that restaurants served these items more as "tourist traps".
Our short 3.5 days layover in Reykjavik gave us a good sense of Iceland as a country and allowed us to check another destination off of our bucket list.