William Heinesen - The Artist

5th of May to 23rd of July 2017

From the 5th of May to the 23rd of July the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands is hosting a large exhibition with artworks by the renowned artist William Heinesen.

William Heinesen. The Artist

William Heinesen (1900-91) was first and foremost a wordsmith. At the same time, he was a visual artist on a high level working in techniques such as pastel, drawing, oil painting and papercutting. The lush imagery in his writing was therefore not only limited to words.

Although William Heinesen modestly called himself an "image maker" his art was on a high level. At the same time, however, it is a fact that the author affected the artist in the sense that his images first and foremost are narrative, fabulative and sometimes sarcastic.

William Heinesen, The Agitator, 1952, pastel

For William Heinesen content was the primary, but form also had a significance. From the beginning Heinesen’s world of motifs was folkloristic, and the many images of trolls show a clear connection to earlier, national romantic art created by symbolists like Theodor Kittelsen (1957-1914) and John Bauer (1882-1914).

Heinesen also took the medieval style to heart, and this is especially visible in his main work, the decoration of the aula in Torshavn’s large municipal school from the 1950s.

In the last decades of his life William Heinesen ventured into papercuttings, and here he created some of his most virtuoso works. There is an explosion of imaginative tales, colour and decoration in a youthful joy guided by the safe hand of the experienced artist. The Nordic gloominess is replaced by and oriental sumptuousness which demonstrates, that youth and old age are relative concepts.

William Heinesen, Fiddler and Tarira, 1979, papercutting

The most detailed and complicated of William Heinesen’s papercuttings is a series with variations of a fiddler and a dancing girl in a green forest, both naked just like in the Garden of Paradise. Artistically these papercuttings are amongst the most elegant and successful in this media. 

The inspiration to the subject comes from Heinesen’s famous novel "The Lost Musicians" (1950). The Fiddler is the young and talented Orfeus, whilst Tarira is his dream girl as well as a figurehead at the prow of a ship at the same time! When Orfeus eventually leaves the country, the two versions of the girl melt together – dream and reality are finally united.

The world of dreams prevails in the papercuttings. The act itself is not mentioned in the novel. Tarira resembles a description of Orfeus’ mother as "young and happy as an Aphrodite just come up on land". And the lush and colourful forest is reminiscent of the young man’s dream which begins with the words: "it started to snow with multicoloured fire, beautiful flowers unfolded."

The papercutting is just one of the many artworks – around 75 in total – which are on display at the National Gallery of the Faroe Islands most of the summer in an exhibition about the significant visual artist William Heinesen.

The exhibition is extensive, and in large this is due to the great kindness that the museum has met from especially the many private owners. It is them to thank that their gems can be shared with all of us.

Nils Ohrt



Opening Hours

From May 1st - August 31st:
Monday - Sunday 11.00 - 17.00

From September 1st - April 30th:
Tuesday - Sunday 13.00 - 16.00
Closed on Mondays


Admission Fee:
- Adult: 65 DKK
- Student: 25 DKK
- Groups, min. 12 adults: 50 DKK p.p.
- Members and children under 16: free


Listasavn Føroya
Gundadalsvegur 9
P.O. Box 1141
FO-110 Tórshavn
Faroe Islands
Tel +298 313579
Email info@art.fo

Find Us