Einar Hákonarson (b. 14th of January 1945, Reykjavík, Iceland) is one of Iceland's best known artists. He is an expressionistic and figurative painter who brought the figure back into Icelandic painting in 1968. He is a pioneer in the Icelandic art scene and art education. He has been called “The crusader of the painting”, due to his involvement in those conflicts many Icelandic painters have had with the public fine art centers over the last 20 years.


Early life

Einar Hákonarson was raised in Kleppsholt, Reykjavík. He started to paint and draw at a very young age. His father was a part time artist and his 2 uncles were avid art lovers which was uncommon at that time in Iceland.
Hákonarson was only 15 years old when he was accepted to The National Art School of Iceland. There he received his education for the next 4 years following which he went abroad to Gothenburg Sweden and to study at Valand Art University where he received influence from new modes of art and was influenced by figurative painting.
Whilst Hákonarson was still studying in Sweden he won the Nordic countries art prize after an exhibition in Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen Denmark. He won a prize in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for his printmaking, and an international printmaking prize in Ljubljana, former Yugoslavia, for a series of pictures after a trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland.


Hákonarson returned to Iceland after his education and held his first solo exhibition in Bogasalur Reykjavík 1968. His show distinguished itself from its Icelandic art scene then current as Hákonarson’s paintings were pop, figurative and expressionistic. This exhibition brought the figure back into the Icelandic painting, which had been dominated by the abstract art for years.

Hákonarson has always been consistent in his art and his values. He paints in oil on canvas but also works with other mediums like printmaking, sculpture, stained glass and mosaic. The human in its environment has been a visible thread through his 40 year carrier. Hákonarson claims that he gets more influenced by feeling for nature, rather than by trying to paint a specific part of it. In his work can be seen different kinds of focus, for example on city life and the modern family unit. He has done a series about The Icelandic sagas, the Holocaust and communism, to name but a few. Religious themes are common in Hákonarson’s art and he frequently makes pictures from the Bible.

In later years Hákonarson’s painting style has become loosed from the strict style at the beginning of his carrier, but without HAVING abandoned A disciplined composition. Apart from Iceland, Hákonarson has lived in Sweden (7 years on and off) and for shorter periods in USA, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Hákonarson is one of the principal portrait painters in Iceland. He has painted some of the most influential people of the nation, from politicians to national poets and artists. His work can be found in large numbers in official buildings, for example schools, banks, churches and the Icelandic parliament. Hákonarson has held over 30 solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions.


Hákonarson has won international awards for his printmaking. He was the first Icelandic artist to exhibit only printmaking in an art show (1968) and to publish printmaking folders (Icelandic sagas). He was a driving force in founding The Icelandic Printmaking Association in 1969 and its first president. Later Hákonarson founded the printmaking department in The National Art School (MHÍ) when he became its director. Hákonarson has also decorated numerous books with his printmaking.



Hákonarson was only 21 years old when he started teaching in the National Art School of Iceland. He grew a beard, since he was younger than most of his students, and has kept it ever since. Hákonarson founded an art school in 1970 (Myndsyn) with his colleague Ingiberg Magnusson. Hákonarson was appointed director of The National Art school of Iceland in 1978, then 33 years of age. He founded the department of printmaking and the department of sculpture, which did not exist in Iceland before and reconstructed the department of ceramics. Hákonarson has held many art workshops and seminars through his carrier. He held teaching positions in Sweden, Valand Art School (1964 -1967), Hovedskou art School (1989 – 1991) and Domens Art School (2000 – 2002).


The painters' conflict

In the ‘90’s, painters in Iceland became discontent with the public exhibition rooms. They felt that the painting was totally left out in the Icelandic art world, and the directors of the National gallery’s only focused on the conceptual art. The painting was even declared dead by some of the country’s art historians. Painters had no place to show their work. Hákonarson, who previously was the artistic counselor of the City Museum (Kjarvalstadir), became Iceland’s most energetic crusader of the painting and its right of existence, to this date.


The Art Center

In 1997 Einar Hákonarson built, with his own hands, the first private owned cultural center in Iceland. The Art Center (Listaskalinn in Hveragerdi) was a 1000 square meters multi-cultural center, with the main focus on fine art and the art Hákonarson felt was left out in the public art centers.

The Art Center flourished and over 20 exhibitions of paintings and sculptures were made, together with numerous concerts, theater performances, poetry and book readings. Some of the exhibitions were the most attended in Iceland’s fine art history to date. Finally, there was a scene for painters and other artists who did not fit into the governmental art, run by its long lasting directors.

But the pioneering drive could not cope with the banks and the loan system of its time, or politics. The Art Center went under after 2 active years. Hákonarson lost everything and the dream of the paintings asylum

Loss of the Art Center

The loss of the Art Center was bigger than most people know. Iceland’s biggest art collector Sonja Sorillo wanted to get The Art Center to house 100 of her collected art works, including works of Picasso, Matisse, Bacon, DeKooning and Pollock. That fell through when The Art Center was sold in an auction to The West Nordic Fund. No international art collection exists in Iceland like Mrs. Sorillo's. Her collection is now lost as it was broken up and sold abroad after her death. The Art Center was then sold to The Arnesinga Art Museum (Museum of the region) who had previously declined any collaboration with Hákonarson’s Art Center.

The Painters House

Hákonarson lost his house and all of his possessions with the downfall of The Art Center. But he stood up after being knocked down and started The Painters House in 2002, a non profitable exhibition place with co painter Haukur Dor. Later, another painter, Oli G. took Dor's place and almost 20 exhibitions were made in two years.

Hákonarson opened an unusual exhibition in the so-called “Cultural night” in Reykjavík 2005. He put up 600 square meters tents and showed 90 paintings in the city centers park, to demonstrate the exclusion of the painting in the public art centers for the last 20 years. He called the show “In the Grass Root”. What followed is unheard of in the Icelandic art history. 3000 people (1% of the country’s population) attended the exhibition in one day and showed their support in Hákonarson and the Icelandic painting. After this show, Icelandic painters formed a group to push for more democracy in the Public art world. This struggle continues to date.


Cultural scene

Hákonarson has held various prominent positions in the Icelandic art world, where he has been active in promoting Icelandic art nationally and internationally. He was the artistic counselor of Kjarvalstadir, The City Gallery of Reykjavík 1987 – 1988 and a chairman of many exhibition committees. He designed and directed the exhibition of The History of Iceland, on Iceland’s 1100 birthday in 1974. He was a deputy to the mayor in the governing body of the Hässelby Slott, cultural site of the Nordic capital cities 1982 - 1992.

Einar Hákonarson lives with his wife Solveig Hjalmarsdottir. He works in Reykjavík. (2006)

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