“Whoever doesn't live in poetry cannot survive here on earth.” These are the words of the late Halldór Kiljan Laxness, a 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, in his 1972 novel Under The Glacier. Laxness is Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate, securing the award for his book Independent People "for his vivid epic power which has renewed the great narrative art of Iceland". His self-built house, Gljúfrasteinn, now sits as a museum dedicated to the author’s life, found in the countryside just out of Mosfellsdalur, east of Reykjavík.
The house was built in 1945 by Laxness and his second wife, Auður Sveinsdóttir. They employed the architect Ágúst Pálsson and interior designer, Birta Fróðadóttir, to turn their dream home into a reality. Without delay, now famously eccentric furniture was placed around the house at Laxness’ direction. Paintings by the most celebrated Icelandic artists of the 20th century were chosen to decorate the walls. Today, visitors can observe paintings by Louisa Matthíasdóttir, Karl Kvaran, Jóhannes Kjarval, Svavar Guðnason and Nína Tryggvadóttir, to name just a handful. Gljúfrasteinn was constructed on the river Kaldakvísl, close to Laxness’ childhood home, Laxnes.
Laxness was an extremely prominent figure, not only in Iceland but within the European cultural scene. After his 1955 Nobel prize, his status amongst contemporaries only increased. Gljúfrasteinn quickly became the go-to destination for foreign guests, officials and fellow artists. International musicians, for instance, would often use Gljúfrasteinn’s living room as a private concert hall.
Laxness wrote about the country of his birth with an incredible breadth of detail, poetry and craftsmanship, and is today held in the highest esteem by his countrymen, not only for his vast body of work (62 books in 68 years), but for his eccentric character, work ethic and commitment to strengthening Iceland’s literary profile. Gljúfrasteinn, still very much the same as when Laxness lived there, manages to capture these aspects of his personality perfectly.
Gljúfrasteinn was sold to the Icelandic state by Laxness’ widow in 2002. In September 2004, the house was officially opened as a public museum. Guided tours around this famous abode are available year round, and concerts are still held at the venue during the summer months.