From Cardiology to Collecting Art

“I believe purchasing quality paintings is a good investment, and much better than buying stock. Stocks are no feast for the eye!” states Skúli Gunnlaugsson, who for 13 years was a successful cardiologist in West Virgina, in the US. In an interview with journalist Einar Falur Ingólfsson in Morgunblaðið Thursday, he discusses art and talks about his collection, which now counts close to 700 works by Icelandic artist.

After being diagnosed with acute leukemia two and a half years ago, he moved back to Iceland, following intensive treatment. He no longer practices cardiology.

Today, he is best known in Iceland for his devotion to the collection of Icelandic paintings. You may even have seen part of his collection, for it adorns the walls of 12 different buildings in the metropolitan area, including Kringlan shopping center, Hús verslunarinnar, the reception area of Hilton Reykjavík Nordica, Vox restaurant, and a number of offices. He has promoted his collection in a rather unusual way by installing exhibitions at various work places in Reykjavík.

In 2008, while still in the US, Skúli began collecting Icelandic art. “I sometimes bid on paintings over the phone, in between cardiac catheterizations,” he states. This was in the wake of the financial crisis in Iceland, at a time when few people in Iceland had the means to purchase art. The króna had devalued, so Skúli’s US dollars provided him with much more purchasing power than before, enabling him to buy a number of paintings. Skúli’s collection includes works from every period.

In the US, he became acquainted with art collectors, who began collecting out of passion, but gradually came to see the collection as an investment. Not only, he states, is art a feast for the eye. “The price of paintings is more stable than gold, as long as you make the right purchase.”

The exhibitions Skúli has installed have been well received. “In all the companies, people praise the works and tell me they’re a pleasure to have and that they cheer people up. The exhibitions are my attempt to teach adults to appreciate the works of our best painters.”

When asked about how much he has spent on his collection, Skúli replies, “Probably close to a billion Icelandic krónur.”

Skúli will be speaking at a forum on Icelandic art, to be held at the National Gallery of Iceland at 10:30 am today.

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