Dulwich Picture Gallery will present the first UK exhibition of paintings and prints by Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928), one of Norway’s finest twentieth-century artists. Along with Edvard Munch, Astrup expanded the artistic possibilities of woodcuts to capture the lush, wild landscapes and traditional way of life of his home in western Norway, powerfully capturing the myths and folklore of the country.
The exhibition brings Astrup’s unique vision of Norway to London. Arranged thematically the show will highlight the artist’s radically innovative approach to landscape painting and printmaking. The parsonage where he grew up and his beautiful farmstead at Sandalstrand (now known as ‘Astruptunet’), along with the lake (Jølstravatnet) that lay between them and the mountains surrounding them inspired a unique and extraordinary body of work. Bringing together a focused display of over 120 oil paintings, woodcuts and archive material, many on public display for the first time, ‘Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup’ (5 February - 15 May 2016) offers a unique opportunity to discover an artist driven by the desire to create a ‘national style’- something quintessentially Norwegian in feeling and in subject-matter.
Astrup was trained in the painterly naturalist tradition by fellow Norwegians Harriet Backer (1845-1932) and Christian Krohg (1852-1925) in Oslo and Paris but it was during study tours in Europe that he identified the importance of the innocent, untutored eye in recording truth in nature. His exposure to the ‘naïve’ style of Henri ‘le Douanier’ Rousseau (1844–1910) and Maurice Denis (1870–1943) reinforced this conviction and encouraged Astrup to return to his home district of Jølster where he would create his own individual response to the landscape, shaped by the impressions and images remembered from his childhood years.
After welcoming visitors to this beautiful slice of Norway with landscapes providing an almost 360 degree view of the area surrounding his father’s parsonage at Ålhus, the exhibition explores the radical innovations in printmaking and painting that came to define Astrup’s career, highlighting key motifs in his oeuvre, from the distinctive Northern light and atmosphere to the famous Midsummer Eve festival which informed his series of striking bonfire paintings.
Ian A. C. Dejardin, the Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery and co-curator of the show, said:
“Hailed even as an art student as the great new hope of Norwegian art at the turn of the twentieth century, Astrup deserves to be celebrated outside his native Norway. In painting he rejected the stylistic trickery of aerial perspective, resulting in canvasses of intense immediacy and brightness of colour; in prints he followed his own innovative path, laboriously reworking his woodcuts so that every print is a unique work of art, and – as a final work of art in its own right – he built himself a home, Sandalstrand, on the precipitous shore of the lake that must be one of the most beautiful artists’ homes in the world. A remarkable man, and a great artist – yet this is the first ever show in this country devoted to him. It will be, as we intend all exhibitions at Dulwich Picture Gallery to be, a revelation.”
Nikolai Astrup was born in 1880, in Kalvåg in Bremanger, Nordfjord. He was the eldest child to his pastor father, Christian Astrup and his mother Petra Constance. The family moved to a parsonage in the village of Ålhus, Jølster in 1883. In 1899 Astrup began as a student at the Royal School of Drawing in Kristiania, producing nude drawings and portrait studies, also in oil. In 1901, Astrup exhibited his first piece of artwork in Kristiania Art Association’s Spring Exhibition; Autumn Rain in a Mountain Village, 1900. Astrup concluded his studies at Harriet Backer’s school in 1901, and was awarded the Schou travel stipend in November. He made his way to various art collections in Europe, before becoming a student of Christian Krohg at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. By 1902, Astrup had returned to Jølster for good, living at the Parsonage more or less permanently between 1902- 1913. A recommendation from Christian Krohg stated “I believe that he will be the one who will most successfully elevate the position of Norwegian art both at home and abroad.” His first solo exhibition was presented at Blomqvist Kunsthandel in Kristiania in April, 1905 and received effusive reviews.
In 1907, on the 23rd December, Astrup married Engel Sunde. Shortly afterwards, in January 1908, Astrup travelled to London on a stipend from the Henrichsen Foundation and when he returned in May, he presented his second solo exhibition at Bergen Art Association. 1911 saw Astrup’s third and last solo exhibition, displayed at the Artists’ Association,Kristiania. In the same year, Astrup’s first child was born, a daughter named Kari. In the same year the family moved to a newly constructed house in Myklebust, before relocating to Sandalstrand in 1913. The subsequent years saw fewer trips – one to Copenhagen and Stockholm in 1916, another to Algeria in 1922 – as Astrup’s health deteriorated. Astrup died of pneumonia on 21 January 1928, at the age of 47, after complications with his lungs from a lifetime battle with asthma and tuberculosis.