Scandinavia is a very special place indeed, but nothing prepared me for Oslo, one of the few European capitals I hadn’t visited, until now. One of the first things that struck me was that there was music and public art everywhere in this city of approximately 500,000 inhabitants and of course, art would be the theme of a major part of our day with a visit to the Vigeland sculpture park. No description in any guide book or on any website can prepare you for the sheer scale and beauty of this incredible “park” – a term which in no way conveys the beauty, the wonder, the sheer accomplishment of what we were to see.
Gustav Vigeland spanned the centuries – born in 1869 and died in 1943. His father was a carpenter and noticing his son’s artistic talents, took him to Oslo to apprentice him, but two years later, his father died and Vigeland had to return to the family home in Mandal to help support the family. This extremely artistic chap spent every free moment reading and drawing, immersing himself in the ancient Greek dramas and learning about anatomy through art. Fortunately for the world, Vigeland returned to Oslo where his talent was recognized and began to travel to the great art capitals of Europe – including Paris, Florence and Rome. Around the turn of the century, Vigeland began to create portraits of prominent Norwegians, but his contribution to world art most certainly has to be the sheer, incomprehensible number of statues which today both grace and define this incredible place.
I shall try to give you a sense of Vigeland Park, both through my words and photos, but only with the plea that if you want to fully appreciate it, you must go there yourself. It’s sort of like trying to understand the vastness of the Grand Canyon without actually having been there, or the size of Rembrandt’s Night Watch without actually having stood in front of it. Within this 80 acre “park” (I wish someone would come up with a new name for such an open air, artistic “place”) are 214 sculptures with more than 758 figures, all created by one man. Vigeland also designed the architectural setting of the park, with its green lawns, tree lined promenades and stepped centerpiece monument. Wonderful figures, representing every age of man, every lifecycle, every pose – from children playing together and with their parents; to women conversing with each other; to men and women in love; to men fighting – all of human life, all of human emotions.
At the main entrance to the park are five large wrought-iron gates, each intricately designed to show various life forms. From there, your first glimpse of amazement are the figures lining the bridge which is more than 300 feet long and on which stand 58 single figures or groups, all sculpted in bronze, and from there, is a fountain which is held up by sculpted figures as well as surrounded by them.
However, your eye is soon drawn to the Monolith Plateau which is reached by climbing the steps which lead to each of three terraces, and in the center of the Plateau itself is the remarkable Monolith, a single block of stone which is 46.3 feet high, and when its plinth is taken into account, has a total height of 56.7 feet. Completely covering this stone are human figures in relief, spiraling upward to a midpoint and then rising to the summit which is covered by small children. Beyond the Monolith Plateau is the Wheel of Life, another extraordinary sculpture.
As I sit here and write, I can only regret that there are not words in the English language to adequately describe what we saw that day, so I do hope the photos accompanying this blog are of some help. Also, what made it even more special for us is that we also saw real life in the park – a girl imitating one of the statues, and a wedding party having their official photos taken. But as I said at the beginning, you must go and see Vigeland for yourself.
Alas, with only one day in Oslo, there was so much else to see so we had to make some choices. Our next stop was the Kon-Tiki Museum, one of many museums on the Bygdøy Peninsula, which is also home to many Norwegian celebrities and foreign diplomats. The museum is home not only to the Kon-Tiki raft and many of the sea-faring, ethnic and practical artifacts, which were part of Thor Heyerdahl’s daring and wonderful historic voyages, but also to my delight, the Oscar won for the film. Frankly, I had never seen an Oscar statue “in the flesh” so that was great fun.
Time passes quickly, and particularly in a city like Oslo which is home to so many riches. I was not going to leave the city, though, without a visit to the Peace Centre, a 10 minute walk from the ship. On the upper level is one of the most remarkable displays I have seen – the photos and stories of each Nobel Peace Prize winner is displayed on iPads, each on its own ‘stalk,’ each melting into the dim, LED-lit ‘garden’ of stalks in a darkened room. I found the prize winner for the year I was born – a French trade unionist (forgive me for not having taken note of the name – but I may remember later, and if I do, I will post a comment) who stood for the rights of individuals. And so shall all of us!
Oh, I was frustrated. We didn’t have time to walk on the ski-slope looking promenades surrounding the City Opera House, or visit the Munch Museum, or stroll amongst the human-like sculptures lolling in the sunshine at Aker Brygge, or marvel at Ola Enstad’s sculpture of airborne divers plunging towards the Aker River. We didn’t have time to listen to Oslo’s music, or shop in its delightful boutiques. But we did have enough time to sample this remarkable city, with enough memories to know that another trip is needed. Soon.