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Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway

Speech given by Her Majesty The Queen at the opening of the exhibition Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, 3 February  2016.

ladies and gentlemen,

Nikolai Astrup is one of Norway’s best-known and most well- loved artists. He was born into the wild and beautiful landscape  of Western Norway – and the traditional life of his home village  of Jølster:

The little garden with fruit trees and a vegetable patch, the lake, the majestic mountains, the forest and the fields.

Astrup painted these motifs with great affection and intensity.

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.  

His pictures show the constant and enduring elements in life, set against the backdrop of the changing seasons – from a cold winter’s day to a warm, sultry summer’s night. 

Astrup often ventured out at night because of his asthma, and many of his works reflect the unique light of the Nordic nights. The scenery is spectacular.

I have been to Jølster many times, and the astounding contrast  of the green fruit gardens in the valley, the deep coloured lake and the dramatic snow-covered mountain tops is absolutely breath-taking. He conveyed all of this in a poetic and naïve – yet bold manner.

Nikolai Astrup has contributed significantly to shaping our understanding of Norway. In that sense, the title of this exhibition is indeed fitting: Nikolai Astrup. Painting Norway.  He transformed his own, private visions of the natural environment into scenes of universal relevance.

In Nikolai Astrup’s own time, Norway was undergoing a political and cultural transformation. The dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden in 1905 - stimulated a strong interest in national identity, and this is clearly reflected in Norwegian art - at that time.

However, Nikolai Astrup’s art is more than just an expression of Norwegian identity. 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.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, Norwegian art has increasingly been shaped through interaction with foreign art and culture. It was considered vital for artists to have an international outlook and to experience new ideas and trends.                  

Astrup visited London in 1908, with the main aim of studying the paintings of John Constable, an artist he admired greatly.

In a sense, we could say that he has now returned, with the fruits of his studies.

After London, the journey will continue – to Henie Onstad Kunstsenter not far from Oslo, and then to Emden Kunsthalle  in Germany. I wish the teams behind the show the best of luck!


And now I have the pleasure of declaring this exhibition Nikolai Astrup. Painting Norway open!




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