This life-size bronze bust of Ibsen stands on an eight-foot granite pedestal in Como Park, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, overlooking Lexington Avenue. The artist is Jacob Fjelde (1859-1896), who modelled the work from life in Molde, Norway, in 1885, when Ibsen was 47 years old. On a rare visit to his home country, Ibsen was spending the summer with his wife Suzannah on the Norwegian West Coast, where he had a visit from the Swedish poet Count Snoilsky, who would be the model for the protagonist of his next play Rosmersholm (1886). Although Ibsen disliked sitting for artists, he took a liking to the precocious young sculptor, then 26 years old, and patiently sat for the bust. Two years later, Fjelde immigrated to Minnesota, where he enjoyed a brief but highly successful career. Among his works are the Minerva statue for the Minneapolis Public Library, 24 relief figures for Burton Hall on the University of Minneapolis campus, and a much loved statue of Hiawatha and Minnehaha in Minnehaha Park. His most important work, apart from the bust of Ibsen, is the near sacred commission he received from the State of Minnesota for the memorial at Gettysburg honoring the dead of the First Minnesota infantry. The celebrated charge of the First Minnesota, most of whose members were Scandinavian immigrants, permitted General Hancock to hold the Union line in the decisive battle of the Civil War.

Fjelde cast his Ibsen bust in a bronze edition of three (the other two are in Tacoma, Washington, and Wahpeton, North Dakota). At the time of his death, from an ear infection, at the age of 35, he had just finished the plaster model of his statue of the great Norwegian violinist, Ole Bull. It was cast in bronze a year after his death and unveiled in Loring Park in Minneapolis in 1897.

Jacob's son, the sculptor Paul Fjelde (1892-1984) may be said to have extended the career of his short-lived father. His first important commission, a bust of Abraham Lincoln, a gift from the people of North Dakota to the people of Norway on the occasion of the Norwegian Centennial in 1914, is the only statue in Oslo's Frogner Park that is not the work of Gustav Vigeland. During the Nazi occupation, it became a symbol of resistance. Fjelde's long career included statues of famous Norwegian-Americans, among them General Heg of Civil War fame, Charles Lindbergh, and Wendell Wilkie. He also did the bronze reliefs in Columbia University's Baker Field.

In 1989, Paul's son Rolf Fjelde, the founder of The Ibsen Society of America, arranged for a fired porcelain copy of his grandfather's Ibsen bust to be placed in Ibsen House, the theatre and conference center in Skien, Norway, Ibsen's birthplace. The bust stands in the vestibule of the theatre.

Joan Templeton


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last update May 2, 2013