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Nikolai Astrup

Norwegian Landscape Painter

Nikolai Astrup Photo
Movement: Expressionism

Born: August 30, 1880 - Bremanger, Norway

Died: January 21, 1928 - Førde, Norway

"Memory, landscape, everyday activity imbued with mysticism."

Summary of Nikolai Astrup

Frequently referred to as Norway's "other" great Expressionist (next to Edvard Munch, whose work he actually deplored) Nikolai Astrup is best known for his ingenious and unnerving paintings and woodcuts of the western Norwegian landscape and the people who worked it. It is true that Astrup detested color theory and the conventions governing optical perspective, yet his landscapes amounted to much more than a child's-eye reductionism. Rather, his work, which sits between an academic landscape tradition and a form of early-modernist abstraction, is celebrated for its clarity and the intense love and honesty with which he depicted his rural surroundings.

Thematically, his work is engaged with mankind's lifelong relationship with the land and it is steeped in a paganism and ancient folklore that challenged the oppressive Christian community into which he was born, and against which he rebelled. Though the mystical themes in his work sat firmly within a neo-romantic orthodoxy, his art, which remained throughout, quintessentially Norwegian, came to prominence at a time when Norway was promoting a new sense of national pride following its liberation from Swedish rule.

Key Ideas

Though he was well travelled throughout Europe, Astrup art remained true to his roots and his art was dedicated to the land and pagan customs of Norway (and the Jølster region specifically).
Astrup imbued his joyous and desolate landscapes with a sense of mysterious spirituality that could evoke emotions ranging through wonder to disquiet (and sometimes all at once). Whereas Expressionists (such as Munch) tended to use art to explore (and expunge) their innermost forebodings and anxieties, Astrup introduced a childlike innocence to his work. This skill lent his intense landscapes a peculiar still and harmony that was unique amongst modern landscapists.
Astrup (much like Munch) was instrumental in introducing the woodcut technique to Norwegian art. However, Astrup's woodcut reliefs tended to be lighter in color and mood than his compatriot's (who was, incidentally, an early admirer and collector of Astrup's woodcuts).
Mythical spirits hold a strong place in Norwegian mythology, and a motif in Astrup's work was that of the Troll. The figure of the Troll featured in hand-carved totems in Norwegian gardens and Astrup pruned his own trees, which he subsequently painted, to resemble Trolls.
Nikolai Astrup Photo

Pastor's son Nikolai Johannes Astrup was the eldest of fourteen children. His father Christian Astrup, was a parish priest at the Lutheran Ålhus Church in Jølster; his mother, Petra Konstanse, was the daughter of Peder Mørch Lodtz, a glove manufacturer from Bergen. Astrup was born in Bremanger in Sogn og Fjordane, Norway, but spent his formative years in nearby Ålhus. It is well known that Astrup rebelled against his father's strict Christian morality.

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