Elves, Gods and Ogres from the Land of Ice – Icelandic Artist Paints Savage Nordic Myths and Monsters

**Please note: Some paintings NSFW**
Hidden people – Icelandic Elves.

I came across Thrandur Thorarinsson’s paintings when searching for information Iceland’s elves or Huldufólk (“hidden people”) after it was reported that Many people in Iceland believe in ‘hidden people’ together with a map of where they’ve been spotted.

Icelandic folk legends Map

In fact, Iceland’s Saga Foundation compiled the origins of many a folk tale from across the island including tales and accounts of elves, devils, wizards, and sea monsters among a number of mythological and magical beings.





Allegedly, even road and housing plans have been diverted to prevent them from disturbing sites associated with these fabled sites, sites where front doors to tiny houses painted or built onto rock faces and tree trunks are not an uncommon sight.

A Young Skeptic Painting in the style of Old Masters

But whilst painter Thrandur Thorarinsson isn’t convinced that many Icelanders really believe in hidden people or elves, many of his images do play with Nordic mythology and folklore. With his style reminiscent of the Old Masters, his interpretation of the Huldufólk departs from the classic twee-ness of storybook elves.

huldufc3b3lk 1
Huldufólk (2014)

Instead his Huldufólk combines the heightened savageness of self and surroundings, in the throws of passion among timeless mountains with the peculiar sense that nature is alive and watching. Here, the spirits of the hidden people stand vigil over the lovers, some disapproving, some watching with interest, some gawping shamelessly. There are contrasts between old and new, where the modern lovers lose themselves in the most anciently primal state, unconsciously exposed before a ghostly society from an indefinite past.

The Gruesome Grýla

Reminiscent of Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya is Thorarinsson’s painting of Grýla –  a mythical ogress who lives in the mountains and can detect misbehaving children throughout the year.

Grýla (2009)

At Christmas she leaves her cave and hunts for naughty children, devouring them in a stew. Used since the 1600s as an aid for scaring children into behaving, the Icelandic government had to put a stop to this in 1746 as children were too scared to even leave the house for fear of the terrifying mother ogress coming to eat them.

Thorarinsson says he wanted ‘to paint Grýla the way she might have looked if she were a real person (as a vagrant, more or less). I thought it would make for a more interesting painting if I would show her having broken into a house, and eating a child right there and then.’

You can take a horse to the water… but don’t if it’s the nightmarish Nykur

At one time most of the lakes in Iceland were thought to house a Nykur – a shape shifting creature that usually takes the form of a sweetly docile horse. It haunts rivers and lakes that are difficult to cross and invites passing humans to sit on its back to help them traverse the treacherous waters. But as soon as the rider climbs on its back he’ll stick to its gluey skin, and the Nykur then gallops with its backwards hooves into the water and pulls the rider down into a watery grave.

Nykur Neck Nøkken
Nykur / Neck / Nøkken (2015)

The only way to prevent the Nykur from drowning you is to speak its name, which it hates to hear. I guess Thorarinsson’s young rider didn’t take heed in this lesson, though her resigned expression makes me wonder whether her submersion was accidental.

A Cthulu-esque worm among Norse Gods

Odinn and Gunnlöð (2012)

Of his piece Óðinn and Gunnlöð the artist says: There is a story that tells how Odin put on a worm outfit (“orms-hamur”) in order to dig himself into the place where Gunnlöð, the guardian of the mead of poetry, was staying. Odin stayed with her for three nights, and each night he would have a sip of the precious mead. What appealed to me here was the chance to paint a beautiful nocturnal scene of a loving couple, wrapped up by a rather disgusting, Cthulhu-esque worm.

Classical Paintings – the Nordic way

Like the Old Masters of Renaissance painting, Thorarinsson paints tales from mythology. It’s refreshing to see a classical style depicting not the Greco-Roman myths and monsters but the Norse tales from texts like the Prose Edda.

Check out these 3 paintings, interlinked by their ancient legends:

Brotnám Iðunnar – Abduction of Iðunn
Abduction of Iðunn (2015)

The goddess of apples and youth, Iðunn, is snatched away from the woods by Thjazi who takes her to his home. Without her the gods start to go old and grey, so they set a trap to lure Thjazi into a fire.

When Thajzi’s daughter Skadi hears of her father’s death, she marches on Asgard in her war armour to seek vengeance. The gods manage to placate her and give her Njord’s hand in marriage. Odin takes Thjazi’s eyes and places them in the sky as stars (below):

Óðinn gerir stjörnur úr augum Þjassa
Odin makes stars from the eyes of Thjazi (2015)

(Below) Njord, god of the sea and winds pines after the ocean from his unhappy mountain home belonging to his new wife, the giantess Skadi.

Njörður (2013)


If you like these check out plenty more of Thrandur Thorarinsson’s quietly eerie paintings on his artist website.

If you enjoyed this article, please leave a comment!


Read more at:
The Atlantic
Business Insider UK
Iceland Saga Foundation
Reykjavic Grapevine
Orkney Jar
The Line Up

If you like Icelandic or Nordic Art, you might interested in these books:










Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s