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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Nikolai Astrup

Marsh Marigold Night, ca. 1915, Nikolai Astrup
Very often when we read about an artist, we give little thought to his or her nationality (if, indeed, it's even mentioned). At best we may picture the artist's country on a map of the world and maybe bring to mind some vague, stereotypical image of, for instance, the Eiffel Tower in the case of France, or of Big Ben if the artist is British. All too often the artist's country is difficult to locate on the mind's map and in many cases, even more difficult to associate even a tourist landmark. If I mentioned Poland, many people couldn't even place it in Eastern Europe, much less bring to mind an image representative of the country. Yet there is probably no greater influence upon an artist's work than his or her homeland. Nikolai Astrup was a Norwegian artist born in 1880. Raise your hand; how many of you can picture Norway shortly after the turn of the century? I didn't think so (unless you're Norwegian, that is).
Spring Evening By The Vicarage Pond, Nikolai Astrup
File this in your mind's map, along
side images of fjords, mountains,
meadows, long summer days and
harsh, endless, winter nights.
Notice the painting Marsh Marigold Night (top) by Astrup, painted around 1915. That's Norway. That's an image that should come to mind when discussing Norwegian art and artists. Speaking of which, can you even name another Norwegian artist? If you came up with Edvard Munch, great! though that probably means the question was too easy. Can you name a second Norwegian artist? I thought not. I guess I need to write about Norwegian artists more often. In any case, Nikolai Astrup was born in the small village of Bremanger along the coast of Norway, but grew up in the neighboring city of Alhus in the county of Jølster just a few miles inland. His father was a priest (but obviously not Catholic). Like all good Norwegian fathers who happen to be priests, he had in mind for his son to grow up to become a priest as well. The son had other ideas. He wanted to be an artist.

As with many landscape painters, Astrup seldom painted
portraits, especially his own.
A rare Astrup portrait,
Portrait of Miss B.
Reluctantly, no doubt, Nikolai's father (who was also named Nikolai) shunted his eldest son off to Oslo where he became a student at Backer, a popular school of painting. After finishing his schooling in Oslo, Astrup studied for a short time in Paris and later in Germany before returning to Jølster. There, he married and fathered eight children (winter nights in Norway and cold and relentless). In having spent the most of his life in Jølster, the Nordic landscape was a tremendous influence. Through his paintings Astrup sought to create a national visual language that would evoked the traditions and folklore of his homeland. Despite the fact that Nikolai Astrup is seen as one of the greatest Norwegian artists of the early 20th-century, and several of his paintings have been sold at auctions for up to half a million dollars, Astrup's works have always stood in the shadow of those of his contemporary Edvard Munch. However Astrup's style is much brighter in color as well as in mood.

Nikolai Astrup's most famous image, seen here in two different
paintings and a color etching (lower-right), rivals Munch's
The Scream as an icon of Norwegian art. The paintings
have accumulated several different titles, by the way.
Astrup preferred clear, strong colors as he painted landscapes depicting his surroundings near Jølster. His paintings depict not just geographic details, but an intimate interaction between nature and the manmade environment. His paintings are characterized by bold lines and rich, distinctive color. Astrup is regarded primarily as a Neo-romantic painter, but he also worked with woodcuts. Although well known in Norway, Astrup is not well-known elsewhere. The first exhibition of his work outside of Norway took place at in London just this year (2016).The show included over 90 oil paintings and prints, most of which had never been exhibited before.

Not all of Astrup's work reflected the Norwegian landscape.
He also painted a limited number of Norwegian nudes as well.
Most of his life Nikolai Astrup struggled with poor health. Tragically, he died of pneumonia in 1928 at the age of forty-seven.

Click above for more on Nikolai Astrup's work.

Two Lovers,  Nikolai Astrup. Notice the dude
in the hayloft enjoying the view.

The interior of Astrup's studio,
with his easel and hats.


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