top of page
  • Writer's pictureDavid Eichholtz

Abstract Expressionist Paintings from the 1950s and Early 60s By Nina Tryggvadottir

A selection of Abstract Expressionist  paintings by Nina Tryggvadottir , a woman artist  originally from Iceland who lived and worked in New York in the late 1940s, most of the 1950s and then returned to New York in the 1960s. She was part of the New York School along with her husband, Alcopley. 

Tryggvadottir was banned from the US in the mid-1950s under McCarthyism and permitted to return in 1959. Her painting career continued in Europe while in exile. However, the US was the dominant location and most important place to be for Abstract Expressionism. Her absence from New York during that critical period had an unfortunate impact on her career, not to mention her early death in the late 1960s. There is a large body of her work available and David Richard Gallery is the representative of the estate. 

Iceland considers Tryggvadottir a national treasure and is in the process of creating a museum in the city of Reykjavik dedicated to Tryggvadottir and her artwork. It is currently under renovation and the estate of Tryggvadottir has donated a significant amount of artwork to the museum. Therefore, we will see much more of her artwork in the near future in Europe and the US. 

Canvases are presented below. However, Tryggvadottir produced outstanding collages and drawings as well as paintings and constructions on paper.

All Artworks Copyright © Nina Tryggvadottir Estate

Nina Tryggvadottir Abstraction (NT-OL-52-08) 1952

Oil on linen  23.5 x 26"

Nina Tryggvadottir Construction Piece XVII (NT-1150) 1950 Enamel on panel  21.5 x 18"

Nina Tryggvadottir Abstraction (NT-OL-60-10), 1960 Oil on linen  38.38 x 25.125"

Nina Tryggvadottir Eruption VII (NT-OL-59-08) 1959

Oil on linen mounted on panel  30 x 25.875"

Nina Tryggvadottir Abstraction (NT-OL-62-02) 1962

Oil on linen  18 x 23.94"

Nina Tryggvadottir Abstraction (NT-OL-65-08) 1965

Oil on linen  29.75 x 26.75"

Nina Tryggvadottir Abstraction (NT-OL-63-09) 1963

Oil on linen  25.63 x 31.75"

Nina Tryggvadottir Abstraction (NT-OCB-64/03) 1964

Oil on canvas board  18 x 24"


Following is a painting by Tryggvadottir that is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was exhibited December 19, 1961 to February 25, 1962 in the “Recent Acquisitions” exhibition. (Image: Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art, New York,

About Nina Tryggvadottir’s Artworks:

The selection of paintings presented herein track her development from tight geometric shapes, planes of pure color and well-defined form, to a more lyrical style and diverse color palette. In the 1960s, her shapes become less strict, breaking free from one another and beginning to flutter across a background of textured vertical strokes. Tryggvadottir created the background with a palette knife and often scraped away at the paint allowing for translucency, depth, and perspective.  

Tryggvadottir’s patch work abstractions derive from her close observation of nature, and she often describes her non-representational works as landscapes nonetheless. She was particularly influenced by the Icelandic landscape and Nordic light of her home country, where she would return annually to paint. The spatial effect of her abstracted landscapes relates to that of Paul Cézanne and Paul Klee. Seeing her work as part of a historical evolution, Tryggvadottir has even cited baroque masters such as Rembrandt as influential figures in her development, connecting her work deliberately to art history. Her rich artistic career was interconnected in another sense, as she engaged internationally with prominent artists, critics, gallerists, and art historians, absorbing influence and engaging in critical debate. Tryggvadottir painted portraits, in a partially cubist style, and engaged with a range of media such as, printmaking, watercolor, collage, book art, glass, and mosaic. About Nina Tryggvadottir: Nina Tryggvadottir was born in 1913 in Seyðisfjörður, on the East coast of Iceland, where she was raised before moving to Reykjavik with her parents. Tryggvadottir was interested in art from an early age and would take art lessons from her uncle, the landscape painter Ásgrímur Jónsson. In 1935 Tryggvadottir went to Copenhagen to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, following which, she lived in Paris. After returning to Iceland at the outbreak of WWII, she went to study in New York on a stipend from the Icelandic State. There, she studied under Morris Kantor, Hans Hoffman and Fernand Leger, and exhibited at the prestigious New Art Circle Gallery run by JB Neumann. She was asked to create stage sets and costumes for a staging of the famous ballet, Soldier’s Tale, by Igor Stravinsky and CF Ramus. After being banned from the US under McCarthyism, Tryggvadottir lived in Paris, where she exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne and London, where she showed works at the Institute of Contemporary Arts and also presented numerous solo exhibitions at galleries throughout Europe. She was permitted to move back to NY in 1959 where she lived and worked until the end of her life in 1968. Tryggvadottir has exhibited internationally and her work resides in numerous private and public collections throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States, including: the Museum of Modern Art, NY; Musee National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, France; The National Gallery of Iceland; The Reykjavik Municipal Art Gallery, Iceland; and Musee D’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France. 

By David Eichholtz

September 25, 2020

New York

212 views0 comments


bottom of page