Residing within a small hotel in the center of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland is a permanent art exhibition featuring paintings, sketches, and sculptures by Icelandic artists, dating from the late 19th century to the late 20th century. The artwork at Hotel Holt totals 440 pieces and is part of a privately-owned collection of over 1,500 works of art.
Every space of Hotel Holt, the sitting rooms, dining room, the reception as well as each of the forty-two guest rooms feature Icelandic artwork. It is therefore unsurprising that the main event at the hotel is the art walk, which is performed five days a week and overseen by the owner, Geirlaug Þorvaldsdóttir, and her knowledgeable staff. The performance itself is an invitation to the public and guests of the hotel to have a look under the surface. Moreover, during the walk guests have the opportunity to discover more about the history of the hotel and its art collection.
The Origins of the Holt Collection
The story of the Holt collection commences naturally with the collectors themselves, the founders of Hotel Holt, Þorvaldur Guðmundsson and Ingibjörg Guðmundsdóttir, and parents of the current owner of the hotel Geirlaug Þorvaldsdóttir.
Born at the roots of Eyjafjall mountain in December of 1911, Þorvaldur Guðmundsson’s life began humbly. He was born to young farmhands working on a farm in the south of Iceland. Þorvaldur’s mother later moved to Reykjavik with the young Þorvaldur, where they lived a life marked by hard work, yet was supported by a harmonious and loving household. Þorvaldur began working at a young age, undoubtedly in part to lighten the burden on his mother. It was a time in Iceland before the current welfare system, in which the many poor toiled to put food on their tables and keep their homes warm. Þorvaldur’s tenacity and work ethic were likely the impetus for his entrepreneurial spirit. Among his endeavors, he founded and managed several hotels and restaurants in Reykjavik, some of which are still in operation to this day. On top of that Þorvaldur also paved the way for various food industries through his seafood canning business, Síld og Fiskur, the first in the country and became the first, large-scale pig farmer in Iceland.
Ingibjörg Guðmundsson’s Undeniable Influence
As a young errand boy for a local co-op in Reykjavik Þorvaldur met Jóhannes Kjarval, one of Iceland’s most beloved painters. Time went on, and the two became friends when Kjarval gifted Þorvaldur with a small work of art as payment for a food parcel. And thus, the seed was planted as Þorvaldur collected roughly 1.500 pieces throughout his life, over 400 of which are by Kjarval. The part of the collection that is visible at Holt is made up of a variety of pieces by sentinel Icelandic artists. Many are by Kjarval, also of note is The Picnic by Jón Stefánsson and Hvítárvatn and Langajökull by Ásgrímur Jónsson. Also found in the dining room is Kaldidalur by Kristín Jónsdóttir and greeting you in the reception and sitting rooms are sculptures and bronze casts by Ásmundur Sveinsson and Jón Benediktsson.
Central to the success Þorvaldur experienced in his life was the support he received from his wife, Ingibjörg. She was equally instrumental to the process of collecting. Kristín, one of their three children, remembers that “he (Þorvaldur) often spoke to mom about art. It was part of everyday life to hear them talk about it.”
Standing as a living tribute to Þorvaldur and Ingibjörg is Hotel Holt, with its permanent art exhibition and continued dedication to the arts in Iceland, by supporting those who make a living in artistic pursuits.
Just as they were patrons of their time to the artists of Iceland, the hotel continues the founder’s legacy by frequently supporting local arts festivals and events. Several of the regular guests and clients of the hotel, the hotel’s restaurant and bar are known Icelandic artists, poets, politicians, and musicians.
The space created by Holt, both by the artwork adorning the walls and through its décor, establishes an atmosphere of timeless class, which will be forever relevant. Joining the Holt art walk is to partake in the lives and work of Þorvaldur and Ingibjörg, alongside being an opportunity to explore the collection and become a part of the hotel’s unwavering legacy.
This feature is brought to you by Marissa Sigrún Pinal, Sales, and Marketing at Hotel Holt.