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To London with Nikolai Astrup

The Norwegian painter Nikolai Astrup is being introduced to a UK audience. Her Majesty The Queen undertook the official opening of the exhibition “Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway” this evening in London.


Although his paintings of the magic of midsummer eve and the mystical landscape of Western Norway are well known in Norway, Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928) – unlike his contemporary Edvard Munch – has remained somewhat of a Scandinavian secret.

A wide-ranging exhibition of Astrup’s woodcuts and paintings was officially opened this evening at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. This is the first time a major exhibition of his work has been showcased internationally. The exhibition has already garnered great interest and received extensive media coverage. According to the Guardian, Astrup is “the Norwegian artist you’ve never heard of, but will never forget.”

Nature and culture

Astrup was a unique and innovative artist. The majestic nature and cultural landscape of his home district were a major source of inspiration and form the central motifs of his work. In her remarks this evening, Queen Sonja drew attention to the vividness of his palette:

“He sought to convey the mystique and magic of nature – and he used strong colours. It has been said that the vibrancy of Astrup’s colours is drawn from the earth itself; from the rain-drenched mountains, moss and lichens, from the waterfalls and mountain glaciers.”  

Astrup was also interested in folklore, and mythical and enigmatic elements occupy a natural place in his paintings. He was fascinated by the Nordic light and golden summer nights, particularly midsummer eve celebrations. His paintings of the traditional bonfires are some of his best known works in Norway.

Norwegian identity

Nikolai Astrup took a number of study trips abroad, but always returned to his homestead. This was a time when National Romantic influence was strong in Norway, and Astrup’s work played a part in the construction of a Norwegian identity and helped to define what it meant to be Norwegian. However, the reach of his art is far greater than that:

“Nikolai Astrup’s art is more than just an expression of Norwegian identity,” emphasised the Queen. “His works create a world of their own. He conveys a message that reaches beyond the Norwegian national setting – resonating with people in other parts of the world.”

On to Oslo and Emden

The exhibition comprises more than 120 woodcuts and oil paintings, and is the result of a collaboration between Dulwich Picture Gallery, Henie-Onstad Art Centre, Kunsthalle Emden and the Savings Bank Foundation DNB. The exhibition in London will be open to the public from 4 February to 15 May. Thereafter it will be displayed at the Henie-Onstad Art Centre in Norway from 10 June through the summer, before moving to Emden, Germany in the autumn.


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