From 1915 to 1930, the population of Reykjavik doubled, going from 14.000 to 28.000. For the most part this was due to the migration of people from the country to Iceland’s capital city. At the same time the per capita income from agriculture went down almost 30%, while the town-based fishing industry blossomed. The social and cultural circumstances of this new Icelandic urban reality served to change the tenor of Icelandic art. Landscapes lost much of their earlier popularity.
Instead a new generation of painters and sculptors, urban born and bred, tackled their immediate reality: the new using, the hustle and bustle of the harbour area (Gunnlaugur Blöndal), the emergence of corner shops (Gunnlaugur Scheving), roadworks, but also other hitherto unexplored aspects of daily life. There were artists such as Jón Engilberts who focussed on public events, such as political gatherings and strikes, others, not least Snorri Arinbjarnar, concentrated on the everyday activities of common people, their struggle for subsistence as well as their hard-won leisure. Eventually this new urban art provided the raw material for the transformation of Icelandic art that occurred during the Second World War and after. The seeds of this transformation can be discerned in the 1934 harbour painting by Þorvaldur Skúlason, where forms and colours are already taking on a life of their own