Nikolai Astrup

Nikolai Astrup (30 Aug. 1880 – 21 Jan. 1928) was a Norwegian painter. (Wikipedia)

Norway’s legendary modern artist who captured his country’s fantastically eerie landscapes ... isn’t Edvard Munch.

It’s Nikolai Astrup – a legend in his own land, but barely known outside of it. Until 15 May 2016, the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London is putting on the first significant show of Astrup’s work outside Norway (over 90 oil paintings and prints including works never before exhibited). Will it make him as famous as Munch, his contemporary?

It seems suspiciously as if the world has room for only one great Norwegian artist. Astrup was born in 1880 and died in 1928, while Munch was born in 1863 and died in 1944. It is impossible to avoid comparing the two, because both are expressionists who take the real world and transfigure it in blazing, lurid colours. They even have a favorite theme in common: the strange light of summer evenings, when the warmth of the far north makes everything look like a fairytale or a hyper-lucid dream.

Astrup’s paintings of people dancing wildly around midsummer bonfires have a lot in common with Munch’s Frieze of Life series. But there is one big difference: Astrup is so much brighter – not just in color, but also in mood. Just because he is Nordic does not mean he is noir. In fact, this artist – whose style has a rough-hewn, woodcut-like quality (as, of course, do his woodcuts) – is not very “modern” at all. He is a traditional landscape artist with a veneer of expressionist distortion. His true appeal is that he captures the drama, both sublime and pastoral, of the Norwegian landscape.

The gentleness of Astrup’s vision – his love of nature and idyllic images of rural life – is surely what makes him so loved in Norway. But he is now another building block to broaden knowledge about Scandinavian art outside Scandinavia... (
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Suzan Hamer


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