Tributes were still being published this week to Per Ung, the Norwegian sculptor whose funeral was held late last week at Vestre Gravlund in Oslo. Ung, age 80, lost his battle with cancer but already had won a lasting place in the public consciousness through his statues of national icons.
His works are found all over the country and especially in the nation’s capital, from his depiction of ice skating star Sonja Henie that was erected outside Frogner Stadium in 1985 to his more recent works of actress Wenche Foss and wartime resistance hero Max Manus. His latest work, a new statue of artist Edvard Munch, still hasn’t been placed but his others are well-known landmarks around town.
Ung was in the news just weeks before his death, when another popular memorial to resistance fighter Gunnar Sønsteby was damaged twice in accidents just weeks apart in May. It’s in for repairs and likely to be re-erected in the heart of Oslo, at the spot where Sønsteby quietly watched Nazi German troops march down Karl Johans Gate in 1940 and vowed to fight back.
In addition to his depictions of Norwegian heroes from Manus and Sønsteby to Fridtjof Nansen and Henrik Ibsen, Ung also was behind such public artworks as Padleren (The Paddler) at Kalvøya in Bærum, Fiskerkona (The Fisherman’s Wife) at the entrance to the historic fishing port of Svolvær in Lofoten and Omfavnelse (The Embrace) in Bærums Verk.
He also created contemporary artistic impressions in a more commercial setting, like the bronze statues of a man reading a newspaper outside the offices of newspaper Verdens Gang (VG) in Oslo and a couple seated at a café table outside a restaurant at Aker Brygge.
“Seldom has a man to such a degree set the tone around our cities and landscapes, selcome has a sculptor left so much behind,” wrote A-Magasinet last week. “He is right amongst us.”
Ung had just turned 80 on June 5 and “still had so much undone,” wrote one of his admirers in an obituary.
He was born in Oslo, studied at Norway’s art academy (Kunstakademiet) from 1952-1955 and said he was “lucky” to win a competition that entitled him to an artist’s residence and stipend right after his graduation. His first major statue was that of drama legend Johanne Dybwad, which stands outside the National Theater. From there the commissions rolled in, if not always the applause of art critics.
Some called him too romantic, too traditional, not daring enough. Ung said he didn’t care what the critics said.
He realized, perhaps, that ordinary folks liked his work, and those closest to him have said he was creative and enthusiastic to the end.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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