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Icelandic Images, Easy to Warm To; Corcoran Exhibition Traverses a Rich Visual Field
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Visual artists; Art exhibits
Author: Lewis, Jo Ann
Date: Nov 5, 2001
Start Page: C.01
Section: STYLE

The Icelandic show begins in 1900 with romantic, idealized views of mountains, tranquil lakes and grazing Icelandic ponies by Thorarinn B. Thorlaksson, the father of Icelandic painting. Thorlaksson studied art at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen long before Iceland had an art school of its own. And in the romantic, nationalistic style then typical of Icelandic literature, he painted "Thingvellir," an idyllic scene of the historic lake, plain and lava cliffs where Europe's first parliamentary government was formed in the year 930. The scene is bathed in the distinctive blue-gray twilight, known as Nordic light, typical of Scandinavian paintings of the time. You'd never know, looking at such works, that Iceland is actually a boiling, sputtering, volcanic, earthquake-prone island with active lava fields, glaciers and 300 geysers bubbling from its volatile innards.

Iceland may be an island, but it has never been insular so far as its artists are concerned. This show, which includes works by 24 of the country's most celebrated artists, proves it by loosely tracing the influence of various trends -- notably abstraction -- as it was absorbed and reconstituted by several mid-20th-century Icelandic painters. Best known among them, at least by Americans, is Louisa Matthiasdottir (1917-2000), who studied with Hans Hofmann in New York in 1941, where she lived most of her adult life with her husband, artist Leland Bell. Like many Icelandic artists, Matthiasdottir (meaning Matthias's daughter) returned to Iceland each summer to paint. And it was there that she produced the charming, brightly colored, highly simplified, semi-abstract landscapes we see here, most including sheep or the endearing little Icelandic horses that we see throughout this show.

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