Norway’s Forgotten Painter in London

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Until a few years ago no one outside Norway had heard of the Norwegian painter Nikolai Astrup. From today, 5 February to 15 May, a collection of over 90 oil paintings and prints will be exhibited at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.

Astrup, Apple Trees in Blossom
Astrup, Apple Trees in Blossom

In Norway, Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) is one of the most renowned artists, but the radically innovative works of this artist is almost unknown to art lovers outside his native country. When he now finally has been recognized abroad, the media calls him “Norway’s other great painter”.

Nikolai Astrip, painting by Henrik Lund, 1900
Nikolai Astrip, painting by Henrik Lund, 1900

British paper The Guardian called him “the lost artist of Norway”. Ian Dejardin says that “he is one of the artists you’ve never heard of, but you’ll never forget once you do encounter him.”

Astrup married a 15-year-old daughter of a local farmer, and they had eight children. Their home is today preserved as a museum and stands in a plot so steep that they had to crawl on their hands and knees home from the lake shore below. Later Astrup built a track and terraces and made a village-like collection of small wooden houses there.

Astrup, Belonging and Identity
Astrup, Belonging and Identity

‘Edvard Munch, I cannot abide,’ wrote Nikolai Astrup in a letter to his friend Arne Giverholt. ‘Everything that he does is supposed to be so brilliant that it doesn’t have to be more than merely sketched.’

Astrup, Moon in May
Astrup, Moon in May

Edvard Munch and Nikolai Astrup were near contemporaries and both were innovative and admired painters. Munch is today one of the few household-name artists, while Astrup has been, until now, neglected by everyone outside Norway.

Astrup, Springnight in Garden
Astrup, Springnight in Garden

His talent was, however, recognized as a student, and one of his avid collectors was in fact his world famous countryman Edvard Munch.

Astrup studied in Copenhagen and Paris, and visited London, but in 1902 he abandoned his studies and returned to Norway.

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During his short life he found all the motifs that would define his work at his beloved lake Jølstravatnet in Jølster.  One of his best known paintings is the Main Midsummer Eve Bonfire (1915).

Nikolai Astrup, drawing
Nikolai Astrup, drawing

As a boy Astrup was forbidden to join what his father regarded as pagan celebrations, but the layers of folklore and paganism that seeped through the cracks in the nominally Christian community were never far away in Astrup’s world.

Astrup, Jolstraholmen
Astrup, Jolstraholmen

Astrup suffered all his life from asthma and later contracted tuberculosis.

Norway’s Forgotten Painter in London, written by Tor Kjolberg