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Einar Hákonarson


​​Early life

Einar was born on the 14th of January 1945 in Reykjavik. His family lived in WWII army barracks until they moved to Kleppsholt. There Einar started to paint and draw his surroundings at a very young age. The household was filled with artistic vibes as Einar's father was a part-time painter and a laborer and his two uncles were avid art lovers as well, which was uncommon at that time in developing Iceland. Einar was only 15 years old when he was accepted to The National Art School of Iceland but was not allowed to attend nude model classes in his first year due to his young age. There he received his education for the next 4 years following. He then went abroad to Gothenburg Sweden and to study at Valand School of Fine Arts where he received influence from new modes of art and was influenced by figurative painting. Whilst Einar was still studying in Sweden he won the Nordic countries art prize after an exhibition in the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art 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 German concentration camp of Auschwitz in Poland.

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


Einar 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, enamels, and mosaic. The human in its environment has been a visible thread through his 60-year career. Einar 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 vs capitalism, to name but a few. Religious themes are common in Einar’s art and he frequently makes pictures from the Bible.

In later years Einar’s painting style has become loose from the strict style at the beginning of his career, but without having abandoned a disciplined composition. Apart from Iceland, Einar has lived in Sweden (7 years on and off) and for shorter periods in the USA, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Einar 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. Einar has held over 30 solo exhibitions and numerous group exhibitions.


Einar 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 Einar founded the printmaking department in The National Art School (MHÍ) when he became its director. Einar has also decorated numerous books with his printmaking.


Einar was 21 years old when he started teaching at 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. Einar founded an art school in 1970 (Myndsýn) with his colleague Ingiberg Magnússon. Einar 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. Einar has held many art workshops and seminars throughout his career. He held teaching positions in Sweden, Valand School of Fine Arts (1964–1967), Hovedskou art School (1989–1991), and Domens Art School (2000–2002).

The Painters' Conflict

In the 1990s, painters in Iceland became discontent with the public exhibition rooms. They felt that the painting was totally left out in the Icelandic art world as the public galleries solely focused on conceptual art that dominated the scene. The painting was even declared dead by some of the country’s art historians. Einar, who previously was the artistic counselor of the City Museum (Kjarvalstadir), became the most energetic spokesman of the Icelandic painting and its right of existence in the public museums and galleries.

The Art Center

In 1997 Einar built the first privately owned cultural center in Iceland. The Art Center (Listaskalinn in Hveragerdi) was a 1000m2 multi-cultural center, with the focus on paintings and arts Einar felt was left out in the public art centers. Einar’s Art Center produced over 20 exhibitions of paintings and sculptures, 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. Einar said in an interview:” Finally there is a place for painters and other artists who do not fit into the governmental art, run by its long-lasting directors”. But the pioneering drive and Einar's resources could not cope with the loan system of its time, or politics. The Art Center went under after two active years.

Loss of the Art Center

Mrs. Sonja Zorilla, Iceland’s biggest art collector at the time, tried to buy The Art Center with the intention to donate works from her collection to the Icelandic public. Among her vast collection were works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Francis Bacon, Willem De Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. Her intentions 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. Zorilla's and her collection 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 Einar’s Art Center. The classical painters became yet again orphans in Iceland.

Einar had taken a gamble with the Art Center and lost his home and all his possessions in its downfall.

After some years of struggles, Einar returned with The Painters House in 2002, a non-profitable gallery with co painter Haukur Dor. Later, another painter, Oli G. Johannsson took Dor's place and 19 exhibitions of various painters were made in two years.

The long-awaited resolution of The Painters' Conflict  

When 14 years had passed since the classical painters were boycotted from the public showrooms, Einar opened an unusual protest exhibition in the so-called “Cultural night” in Reykjavik (2005). He put up 600 square meters of tents in the city center's park, close to the City Gallery, and exhibited 90 paintings. He called the show “In the Grass-Root” to demonstrate the exclusion of the painting in the public art centers. What followed is unheard of in Iceland's fine art history. In one day 3000 people (1% of the country’s population) attended the exhibition and showed their support in Einar and the painting. After this show, Icelandic painters formed a group to push for more democracy in the Public art world. No matter what the painters plead, the politics and long sitting museum directors did not budge.

In 2007 Einar went into a self-imposed exile in the remote village of Holmavik (Iceland's Westfjords) where he built himself a new art studio and focused solely on his painting. 

When 25 years had passed most of the aging painters in the conflict had met their maker.

A watershed moment came for the remaining Icelandic painters in 2015 when the Reykjavik City museum held a retrospective show on Einar, when he turned 70 years old. At the opening, the director of the museum and the prime minister of Iceland declared the return of the painting in the Reykjavik City Museum. The following two exhibitions showed 90 working painters of all ages with the exhibitions “Just painted” I and II.

The 25-year exile of the painting in Iceland had finally come to an end, but the fact remains that many Icelandic painters of the past still remain forgotten and wait for rediscovery.

Cultural scene

Einar 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 Reykjavik 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 still lives and works in the village Holmavik with his wife Solveig Hjalmarsdottir (2020).

Biography: Bio
Biography: Pro Gallery
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