Oslo – Norway’s cultured capital

The naked baby’s eyes are scrunched in frustration, small fists clenched tightly into knuckled balls, one bare foot raised in readiness for an impetuous stamp.

 

Welcome to the surreal world of Vigeland’s Sculpture Park in Oslo.

Sinnataggen – The Angry Boy – is one of the most iconic of 212 bronze and granite life-size pieces created by Norway’s revered sculptor, Gustav Vigeland, and permanently on display at Frogner Park on the fringes of the city.

The government reached a deal with the artist in the 1920s to allocate over 80 acres of land to house his work. Today locals and visitors can enjoy the fruits of 40 years of Gustav’s labour, whimsical imagination melded with artistic brilliance.

As well as distraught infants you’ll discover adolescent girls, fornicating couples, pregnant women and stooping old couples. For one of Vigeland’s major themes is the Circle Of Life, brought thrillingly to life by these tactile statues reaching up into the park’s wide Norwegian skies.

Move through the park’s four distinct zones to experience Gustav’s full gamut of emotional intent. Stop at the imposing installation of a giant, muscular man juggling three babies on his bulging forearms and drop-kicking another with his right foot. Interpret it as you will.

The natural conclusion to the sculpted journey is also the highest point in the park. Monolitten – The Monolith – comprises 121 intertwined human figures rising 46 feet and carved from a single piece of granite. It represents man’s desire to become closer to the spiritual world, human forms embracing each other as if being carried towards salvation. Apparently.

Oslo was the final point on our whistle-stop tour of Norway, courtesy of Great Railway Journeys.

We’d enjoyed the Hanseatic history and fishy heaven of Bergen on the west coast, and the calm oasis of Flåm – appropriately meaning little place between steep mountains  – nestled deep in a tributary of Sognefjord, the world’s longest and deepest fjord.

But Oslo had taken us by surprise, a vibrant and cultural terminus for our trip where you can stumble on museums, art and sculpture at every turn.

Once you’ve overdosed on Vigeland’s scary imagination, follow in the footsteps – literally – of Norway’s greatest writer, the enigmatic Henrik Ibsen.

Ironically his creative output was largely generated during 27 years of self-imposed exile in southern Europe. Here he felt released from the claustrophobic strait-jacket of Norwegian life that he so subtly dramatised in emotional, literary soap operas like The Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler.

Ibsen retired to Oslo in 1895 and walked every day from his home at Arbins gate 1 to the nearby Grand Cafe on Karl Johan Street. Today the route is mapped out on the pavements, etched with some of his dramatic words leading the way.

A bronze statue of him watches over the National Theatre building, opened in 1899 and now a living laboratory for endless reinterpretations and deconstructions of his greatest work. And his old apartment building has been turned into an engrossing museum, giving an insight into his life and angst-ridden characters.

Sure, Norway is a land of natural wonders….but if you end up in Oslo prepare to be equally awed by the cultural output of the country’s very human treasures.

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