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A Millennium After Ericsson, Painter Depicts Iceland for Americans

October 14, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ At the start of the millennium, Icelander Leif Ericsson visited America’s east coast and took away vivid word pictures of ``Vinland.″

Next summer, Louisa Matthiasdottir will make Leif’s voyage in the other direction, visiting her Icelandic homeland to create her own vivid pictures: oil paintings of the North Atlantic island’s towns, sea and mountains.

At the millennium’s end, nearly 1,000 years after Leif’s first visit, her pictures will be sold to Americans.

Matthiasdottir (pronounced MAT-ee-as-dot-ear) has just opened a show of her work in Washington at American University’s Watkins Gallery. The 43 paintings, many done on previous trips to Iceland, will travel America into 1998, appearing at institutions stretching from the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture in New York City to the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle.

The painter has Leif Ericsson’s energy. At age 79, she produces 50 or more paintings a year, said Steven Harvey, curator of the show. Salander-O’Reilly Galleries in New York asks $4,500 to $25,000 for them.

She likes to work every day, sometimes finishing a picture in a single session. ``When she was ill last winter, she called it an excuse for not working,″ Harvey said.

Pictures by Matthiasdottir tell viewers plainly just what things and people look like _ imaginatively, not photographically. Her pictures have a Nordic plainness with an American warmth.

``I don’t do shapes and colors without seeing them in nature,″ she said at her opening. ``Either it looks like a landscape or it doesn’t. That’s all.″

The artist, slender and erect, iceberg-white hair in a severe bob, came to Washington just for the day to open the exhibit.

She began her career by studying commercial art in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the early 1930s, then spent a year with Marcel Gromaire, a French painter whose fantastic style was totally unlike hers. But, she once said, he ``had the good sense to leave his pupils alone.″

In 1941, Matthiasdottir came to New York with another Icelandic woman painter, Nina Tryggvadottir. ``We couldn’t stay in Europe because of the war,″ she said in an interview.

Except for two years in Paris, she has lived in New York ever since.

She studied at the school of German-American Hans Hoffmann, where she met the late American artist Leland Bell. Married in 1944, they went to Paris from 1950 to 1951, then returned to New York and bought the Manhattan house where she still lives.

Matthiasdottir likes to paint their daughter, Timma, as well as still lifes, landscapes, cityscapes and stern self-portraits in bright colors. She emphasizes her green shoes, for example, or poses herself at a kitchen table, standing with a menacing look over a purple eggplant.

An American critic wrote:

``She is not tempted by the perfume of French painting _ its arabesques and elegant moves. Instead, she takes the bones. ... There is a frontier bluntness to her way of handling paint.″

___

``Louisa Matthiasdottir _ Paintings _ 1930s _ 1990s″ will be at the Watkins Gallery, Washington, until Oct. 26; at the Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Jan. 12-Feb. 23, 1997; New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, New York City, March 16-April 19; Nordic Heritage Museum, Seattle, July 8-Aug. 31; Maier Museum of Art, Randolph-Macon Women’s College, Lynchburg, Va, Oct. 18-Dec. 21; and Rider University, Lawrenceville, N.J., spring 1998.

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