Creating a National Style: Painting Norway, Nikolai Astrup's Lush, Wild Landscapes and Traditional Way of Life at Home
Nikolai Astrup, Midsummer, After 1917
Dulwich Picture Gallery, England is presenting an 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 (through 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 color; 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.”
The exhibition opens with the rugged, wild mountainscapes and lake that dominated Astrup’s home village of Ålhus counterbalanced with domestic views of his father's parsonage, the garden and the farmstead. These works celebrate the specific qualities of the light of the north, notably the midsummer nights, as in the woodcut A Clear Night in June (1905–7), or inclement weather, as in Rainy Atmosphere beneath the Trees at Jølster Parsonage (before 1908). A deliberate flattening of the landscape and rejection of aerial perspective in works such as Farmstead in Jølster (1902) illustrate Astrup's avowed determination to represent both foreground and background with equal intensity.
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