Born in Bremanger, Nordfjord in 1880, Astrup's family moved shortly thereafter to Ålhus in Jølster, where his father was a priest. His relationship with his father was marked at times by opposition and conflict, most likely because Nikolai could not quite accept the strict form of Christianity practiced at home. What's more, his wish to become an artist went against his family’s expectations.
As an artist and bohemian, he stood out in the conventional rural village where he grew up, but he remained in Jølster for most of his life, and it was here that he found the motifs for nearly all of his paintings. Throughout his entire artistic career he focused on the same landscapes and locations and peopled them with the same human types. He imbued the landscapes with mysticism and an enigmatic symbolic content.
Astrup’s paintings can be seen as a serial treatment of the seasons, given how he depicts the constant and enduring aspects of existence; the little garden with fruit trees and the small vegetable patch, the lake, the familiar mountains, the forest and the fields. These he depicts under constantly changing atmospheric conditions – a drizzling autumn morning, a spring thaw, a cold winter day or a mild and soothing summer night.
Although Astrup settled in rural Norway, far from established art circles, he was not self-taught. He undertook several study trips and was familiar with contemporary Norwegian and European art. At 19 years old he began studying at Harriet Backer’s popular art school in Kristiania, Oslo. Later, Backer would speak of him as one of her most prominent pupils: “I allowed him to work in the direction he wanted, as I understood he was the true genius of the school.” Some years later Christian Krohg taught Astrup at the Academie Colarossi in Paris. Krohg also praised the young artist, saying: “When I speak of Mr. Nicolai Astrup as an artist, it cannot be the way an older artist speaks of a young artist as a “beginner”. Mr. Astrup is in no way a beginner even though he has been painting for a very short time. His unique talent has brought him past the first phase of development, a period where most people stay for at least ten years.”
One of the most renowned Norwegian artists, Astrup's work transforms the rugged Norwegian landscape into a mythical, living entity. Exploring the luscious, colourful paintings and radical innovation in printmaking that defined the Norwegian artist's career, the exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery will bring over 90 oil paintings and prints, including works from private collections never exhibited before, to London. Find out more at www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.