Set along a boulevard in Oslo’s Frogner Park, the Vigeland installation consists of 212 sculptures made from bronze and granite, spread over an 850-meter axis from the entrance to the park’s centerpiece, The Monolith. The sculptures consist of naked human figures, in all variety of poses and situations – from the pastoral to the downright surreal – exploring the human form and human life, at its purest.
Built between 1939 and 1949, artist Gustav Vigeland did not live to see the park’s completion, dying in 1943. Receiving over one million visitors a year, the park’s popularity is a testament to Vigeland’s vision: a true public space, for the people of Oslo and beyond.
A stroll down the central boulevard takes visitors past the various landmarks, around which the sculptures are concentrated. The Fountain is one of the park’s most notable sights, a magnificent structure surrounded by 20 statues, each representing a different stage of human life, from childhood to death. A plaster model of the fountain was exhibited as early as 1906, though the sculpture was initially intended for Norway’s Parliament.
The Monolith is the grand center of Vigeland’s project, situated on a plateau raised high above the surrounding park. As the name suggests, the sculpture is carved out of one enormous piece of granite 46 feet tall, and depicts 121 figures climbing in and around each other, all fighting their way to the top. Dotted around The Monolith are various figures, each one representing a different stage of life — from the loving couple in Sitting Man and Woman to Heap of Dead Bodies.
But to focus only on these highlights would in many ways be to miss the essence of the collection. Sculptured figures set along casually Frogner Park’s walkways, such as the bridge designed by Vigeland himself, capture the essence of the installation. These sculptures are sublime studies of the human body in all its glorious simplicity — male and female, young and old — and examine human relationships.
Familial tenderness is explored in pieces like Old Man Holding Little Boy in His Hand; movement and athleticism is illustrated in the tradition of the Ancient Greek sculptors, in pieces like Dancing Young Woman. One of the most famous sculptures, titled Angry Boy, depicts a toddler having a tantrum with amusing precision.
However, the bucolic bliss is broken as these studies seem to get increasingly violent, and surreal, with pieces like Man Throwing Woman Over His Head and Man Fighting Lizard. This contrast with surrounding scenes gets its most egregious expression in Man Chasing Four Geniuses, which shows a man engaged in battle with a group of flying babies that apparently embody malicious spirits.
One of Norway’s most celebrated sculptors, Gustav Vigeland was born in 1869, and traveled to Europe several times, including visits to Rodin’s studio in Paris. Prior to beginning work on the park, he was known for his work on the restoration of the magnificent Nidaros Cathedral.
Vigeland’s relationship with Frogner Park began when he started work for a studio in the nearby city of Oslo. As early as 1914, he began to conceive of creating an outdoor park for his sculptures, and by 1924 his plans for The Fountain and The Monolith had been approved, followed by the Main Gate in 1927. Eventually, by 1931, the city agreed to his plans for the overall sculpture installation. All of the pieces were modeled in clay by Vigeland himself, and are preserved in the park museum.
Frogner Park, Kirkeveien, Oslo, Norway, +47 23 49 37 00