Wondrous Happenings: Karólína Lárusdóttir


Sarah Wiseman Gallery is proud to present Wondrous Happenings, a rare chance to see works by the renowned Icelandic artist Karólína Lárusdóttir as we celebrate her 75th birthday. Wondrous Happenings will be the first solo exhibition of Karolina's work in nine years.


Born and raised in Iceland, Karólína Lárusdóttir moved to Oxford to study at the prestigious Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University, graduating in 1967. Despite remaining in the UK for many years, Karólína admits, "everything in my work is to do with Iceland: the landscape, the people, the way I remember life as a child".


In this exhibition of etchings, the artist shares strange yet engaging scenes that convey her childhood impressions of a country that remains faithful to ancient customs and traditions to this day. It is said that many Icelanders regard self-sufficiency and independence as important personal qualities to have. Coupled with a national pride in their Viking heritage and for many, a belief in a 'hidden people,' Iceland's traditions are a curious blend of no-nonsense stoicism, with the indubitable acceptance of the existence of other forces.  


As the granddaughter to a strongman of a travelling circus and owner of Hotel Borg, Reykjavik's first grand hotel, Karólína Lárusdóttir's work is greatly inspired by her unusual Icelandic upbringing. With regular visits to the Hotel, she was witness to many gatherings and social encounters. Hotel Borg was at one time central to Reykjavik's social calendar, where society parties and dinners took place.  Much of the social custom and their peculiarities are typical subject matter for Lárusdóttir's etchings; her imagery is often populated by chefs and chambermaids, customers taking tea or dancing, referencing characters frequenting the hotel.  Faces are unsmiling yet expressive and intense, relating to one another as if in tacit understanding. "There's nothing worse than seeing a picture of a smiling person", says Larusdottir, "there's always more going on than you think". Despite drawing on a bank of her personal memories and imagination, she does not want the etchings to become too sentimental.


Karólína's work is underpinned by the other-worldly and mystic elements of Icelandic culture. Using wry humour, she enhances the surreal and timeless qualities of different happenings, depicting stern-looking angels and other mysterious characters that appear in her painterly and colourful etchings.


Karólína Lárusdóttir's quietly captivating works are held in collections around the world, including the Vatican Collection, Rome, the Royal Collection of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, the British Museum and the Iceland National Collection in Reykjavik.


Wondrous Happenings will be Karólína Lárusdóttir's second solo exhibition with Sarah Wiseman Gallery, having exhibited with the gallery in 2004. Her last solo exhibition was at The Contemporary Art Gallery in Reykjavik in 2010.

View the exhibition catalogue here.


Very sadly during the planning of this exhibition, Karólína Lárusdóttir passed away, on 7th February 2019. The exhibition will go ahead with the blessing of Karólína’s family, but it now takes on a new meaning.  The exhibition has been two years in the planning and we had intended it to coincide with the artist’s 75th birthday, but we now see it as a celebration of this remarkable artist’s life and work.


Notes for editors:


Karólína Lárusdóttir



Born in Reykjavik in 1944, Karolina overcame considerable reluctance from her parents to support her decision to become an artist. It was during a trip to the UK aged fifteen that her host family heard that she was interested in visual art, so they treated her to a tour of the Royal Academy Schools. Thus, began a long association with the British art scene and a resolve that this was what she was meant to do with her life.  Her maternal Grandmother and namesake was to be her greatest supporter, paying for bed, board and materials while she was studying in the UK.


She soon returned to the UK to begin a course at the John Cass School of Art. Keen to escape a tumultuous family life back in Iceland, Karolina went on to study at the Ruskin School of Art.


She graduated from the Ruskin in 1967, and held her first solo exhibition at Casa Nova, the gallery of Reykjavik Junior College.  She was then encouraged to apply for a graduate degree in the USA, and recognising the immense opportunities available, Karolina was confident of being offered a place and looked forward to studying there. However, she soon discovered she and her husband Clive were expecting a baby and 'with that, I kissed America goodbye', she says.

Following the birth of her two children, it would be eight years before Karolina began painting again.

In 1977, Karolina enrolled on a lithography course under the instruction of Jane Stobart, who remained a great friend.  She also began etching with Harry Eccleston, an acclaimed artist and printmaker who encouraged her to look to the subject she knew best to inform her art: Iceland.