Yet it is the 20m-high obelisk up on the stepped embankment just beyond the central fountain that really takes the breath away. It’s a deeply humanistic work, a writhing mass of sculpture that depicts the cycle of life as Vigeland saw it: a vision of humanity playing, fighting, teaching, loving, eating and sleeping – and clambering on and over each other to reach the top. The granite sculptures grouped around the obelisk are exquisite too, especially the toddlers, little pot-bellied figures who tumble over muscled adults, providing the perfect foil to the real children who crawl all over them, giggling and screaming.
A country boy, raised on a farm just outside Mandal, on the south coast, Gustav Vigeland began his career as a woodcarver but later, when studying in Paris, he fell under the influence of Rodin, and switched to stone, iron and bronze. He started work on the Vigelandsparken in 1924, and was still working on it when he died almost twenty years later. It’s a literally fantastic concoction, medieval in spirit and complexity, and it was here that Vigeland had the chance to let his imagination run riot. Indeed, when the place was unveiled, many city folk were simply overwhelmed – and no wonder. From the monumental wrought-iron gates on Kirkeveien, the central path takes you to the footbridge over the river and a world of frowning, fighting and posturing bronze figures – the local favourite is Sinnataggen (The Angry Child), who has been rubbed smooth by a thousand hands. Beyond, the central fountain is an enormous bowl representing the burden of life, supported by straining, sinewy bronze Goliaths; a cascade of water tumbles down into a pool flanked by figures engaged in play or talk, or simply resting or standing.