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Dulwich presents first UK show dedicated to landscape painter and printmaker, Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928)

Astrup _Midsummer _small Car

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Dulwich Picture Gallery will present the first UK exhibition of paintings and prints by Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928), one of Norway’s finest twentieth-century artists. Along with Edvard Munch, Astrup expanded the artistic possibilities of woodcuts to capture the lush, wild landscapes and traditional way of life of his home in western Norway, powerfully capturing the myths and folklore of the country.
The exhibition brings Astrup’s unique vision of Norway to London.  Arranged thematically the show will highlight the artist’s radically innovative approach to landscape painting and printmaking. The parsonage where he grew up and his beautiful farmstead at Sandalstrand (now known as ‘Astruptunet’), along with the lake (Jølstravatnet) that lay between them and the mountains surrounding them inspired a unique and extraordinary body of work. Bringing together a focused display of over 120 oil paintings, woodcuts and archive material, many on public display for the first time, ‘Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup’ (5 February - 15 May 2016) offers a unique opportunity to discover an artist driven by the desire to create a ‘national style’- something quintessentially Norwegian in feeling and in subject-matter.
Astrup was trained in the painterly naturalist tradition by fellow Norwegians Harriet Backer (1845-1932) and Christian Krohg (1852-1925) in Oslo and Paris but it was during study tours in Europe that he identified the importance of the innocent, untutored eye in recording truth in nature. His exposure to the ‘naïve’ style of Henri ‘le Douanier’ Rousseau (1844–1910) and Maurice Denis (1870–1943) reinforced this conviction and encouraged Astrup to return to his home district of Jølster where he would create his own individual response to the landscape, shaped by the impressions and images remembered from his childhood years.
After welcoming visitors to this beautiful slice of Norway with landscapes providing an almost 360 degree view of the area surrounding his father’s parsonage at Ålhus, the exhibition explores the radical innovations in printmaking and painting that came to define Astrup’s career, highlighting key motifs in his oeuvre, from the distinctive Northern light and atmosphere to the famous Midsummer Eve festival which informed his series of striking bonfire paintings.
Ian A. C. Dejardin, the Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery and co-curator of the show, said:
“Hailed even as an art student as the great new hope of Norwegian art at the turn of the twentieth century, Astrup deserves to be celebrated outside his native Norway. In painting he rejected the stylistic trickery of aerial perspective, resulting in canvasses of intense immediacy and brightness of colour; in prints he followed his own innovative path, laboriously reworking his woodcuts so that every print is a unique work of art, and – as a final work of art in its own right – he built himself a home, Sandalstrand, on the precipitous shore of the lake that must be one of the most beautiful artists’ homes in the world. A remarkable man, and a great artist – yet this is the first ever show in this country devoted to him. It will be, as we intend all exhibitions at Dulwich Picture Gallery to be, a revelation.”
The exhibition opens with the rugged, wild mountainscapes and lake that dominated Astrup’s home village of Ålhus counterbalanced with domestic views of his father’s parsonage, the garden and the farmstead. These works celebrate the specific qualities of the light of the north, notably the midsummer nights, as in the woodcut A Clear Night in June (1905–7), or inclement weather, as in Rainy Atmosphere beneath the Trees at Jølster Parsonage (before 1908). A deliberate flattening of the landscape and rejection of aerial perspective in works such as Farmstead in Jølster (1902) illustrate Astrup’s avowed determination to represent both foreground and background with equal intensity.
Printmaking was integral to Astrup’s artistic practice, to which he took a painterly approach, consciously blurring the boundaries between prints and paintings by adding texture and colour with a brush, sometimes all but overpainting his prints. He constantly strove to recapture his intensely-felt experiences of specific combinations of light, shadow and colour at given moments in the ever-changing climate of Jølster as seen in the many-coloured masterpiece A Night in June in the Garden (1909), a print which exists in a variety of impressions, two of which will be on display. This section will also look closely at Astrup’s largest and most ambitious print Foxgloves which, displayed alongside the original oil painting of 1909 will reveal his creative process.
Sandalstrand, the remarkable farm-garden and family home created by Astrup and his wife, Engel looks across the lake to the village of Ålhus. Together they transformed a barely habitable place into a richly planted oasis that came to embody Astrup’s personal vision of what a farm garden in Jølster could be. The result proved to be not only the most distinctive and important artist’s garden in Norway, but also a significant example of a garden used as an integral part of its artist-maker’s creative practice. It provided him with many artistic motifs which became the subjects of his paintings and prints such as Rhubarb (1911) and Spring in Jølster (1925). Fruits and flowers from the garden were also used to decorate the interior of the farm and to create his ‘interior still lifes’; examples on display include Interior Still Life: Living Room at Sandalstrand (c.1921).
The childhood sense of the landscape as a magical place of potential transformation emerges in many of Astrup’s works. In Grain Poles he evokes an army of trolls in painting the characteristic grain poles of rural Norway, making the likeness explicit with the suggestion of a face. Similar motifs appear elsewhere in his work, most obviously in the ‘troll’ tree and ‘Ice Queen’ mountain of Spring Night and Willow (1917). The final room in the exhibition also brings to London the most striking of all Norway’s festivals, Midsummer Eve, which Astrup painted with great intensity. His memories of watching the festivities as a child informed works such as Midsummer Eve Bonfire (1915) where couples whirl, dancing to the music of a fiddler. Blended with the great wafts of smoke and luminous flames, Astrup’s dazzling prints and paintings of the celebrations were to become arguably his most famous works.
The exhibition is co-curated by The Sackler Director of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Ian A. C. Dejardin, MaryAnne Stevens, independent art historian, curator and consultant, and previously Director of Academic Affairs at The Royal Academy of Arts, and Frances Carey, independent curator and consultant, who was formerly Head of National Programmes, and before that Deputy Keeper of Prints and Drawings, at the British Museum.
Loans have been secured from a number of lenders from Norway including Astruptunet, Sogn og Fjordane Kunstmuseum (MISF); KODE, Bergen; The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo and The Savings Bank Foundation DNB as well as a number of private collections in Norway and the United States of America.
‘Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928)’ has been organised by Dulwich Picture Gallery with Henie Onstad Kunstsenter and Kunsthalle Emden. Principal Collaborator: The Savings Bank Foundation DNB.
With Scala Arts and Heritage Publishing, Dulwich will produce a fully illustrated colour catalogue to accompany the exhibition. Exhibition co-curators Ian A C Dejardin, MaryAnne Stevens and Frances Carey explore the artist’s remarkable life including his place within the context of contemporary European art and the innovative quality of his printmaking.

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Louisa Bee
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Notes to Editors

Nikolai Astrup was born in 1880, in Kalvåg in Bremanger, Nordfjord. He was the eldest child to his pastor father, Christian Astrup and his mother Petra Constance. The family moved to a parsonage in the village of Ålhus, Jølster in 1883. In 1899 Astrup began as a student at the Royal School of Drawing in Kristiania, producing nude drawings and portrait studies, also in oil.

In 1901, Astrup exhibited his first piece of artwork in Kristiania Art Association’s Spring Exhibition; Autumn Rain in a Mountain Village, 1900. Astrup concluded his studies at Harriet Backer’s school in 1901, and was awarded the Schou travel stipend in November. He made his way to various art collections in Europe, before becoming a student of Christian Krohg at the Académie Colarossi in Paris. By 1902, Astrup had returned to Jølster for good, living at the Parsonage more or less permanently between 1902- 1913. A recommendation from Christian Krohg stated “I believe that he will be the one who will most successfully elevate the position of Norwegian art both at home and abroad.” His first solo exhibition was presented at Blomqvist Kunsthandel in Kristiania in April, 1905 and received effusive reviews.

In 1907, on the 23rd December, Astrup married Engel Sunde. Shortly afterwards, in January 1908, Astrup travelled to London on a stipend from the Henrichsen Foundation and when he returned in May, he presented his second solo exhibition at Bergen Art Association. 1911 saw Astrup’s third and last solo exhibition, displayed at the Artists’ Association,Kristiania. In the same year, Astrup’s first child was born, a daughter named Kari. In the same year the family moved to a newly constructed house in Myklebust, before relocating to Sandalstrand in 1913. The subsequent years saw fewer trips – one to Copenhagen and Stockholm in 1916, another to Algeria in 1922 – as Astrup’s health deteriorated. Astrup died of pneumonia on 21 January 1928, at the age of 47, after complications with his lungs from a lifetime battle with asthma and tuberculosis. 

Dulwich Picture Gallery is one of the world’s first purpose-built public art gallery, founded in 1811 and designed by Regency architect Sir John Soane. It houses one of the finest collections of Old Masters in the country, especially rich in French, Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings and in British portraits from the Tudor period to the 19th century. The Gallery’s Permanent Collection is complemented by its diverse and critically acclaimed year round temporary exhibitions.

Press View:
Thursday 4 February, 2 - 5pm
Curator's Tour: 2.15pm
Refreshments: 3pm

Listings Info:
Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928)
Exhibition dates: 5 February 2016 – 15 May 2016
Tickets: (Pre-book online):
£12.50* Adult
£11.50* Senior Citizens
£7.50* Unemployed, disabled, students
FREE children, Friends
*Ticket prices include a voluntary
Gift-Aid donation

Associated Public Events

Exhibition Lecture:
Thursday 11 February 2016
Learn more about Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup from the exhibition curators

Walk the Plank: The Fire Garden
5 - 6 February
6.30pm – 9.30pm
Fire garden*: children £5, adults £8.
Family ticket: £20 (two adults, two children)
Fire garden and Astrup exhibition: adults £18, children £5
Inspired by our Nikolai Astrup exhibition, outdoor arts and fire sculpture specialists, Walk the Plank will transform the Gallery grounds after dusk into a live fire garden evoking the light and warmth of the blazing Midsummer bonfires in Astrup’s paintings. From flaming lotus flowers to firebreathing hollies and swaying giant bulrushes, the gardens will become a world of light and fire. Winter refreshments will be available from the Gallery café and other vendors.
*includes entry to the Permanent Collection

Leif Ove Andsnes
7 & 8 March
Tickets £10 - £58
Join us as we welcome Leif Ove Andsnes, the renowned Norwegian pianist, and two talented young Norwegian musicians for three special concerts in the Gallery (two different programmes). Music will include Grieg as well as contemporary Norwegian pieces in celebration of the exhibition, Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup. Enjoy the event with lunch or dinner in the café (please purchase a combined ticket).

Painting Norway: Discovering Astrup
Saturday 12 March
10.30 – 3.30pm
£40, £35 Friends, £30 Students
Includes morning coffee and early access to the Exhibition 
Join a lively day of talks to coincide with the Gallery’s first Norwegian Exhibition. Nikolai Astrup is one of Norway’s finest painters and a ground-breaking printmaker. Much loved in his native country, he is little known outside it. Join the curators of the exhibition and a number of other experts in discussing Astrup, his work and his contemporaries, including Ibsen and Grieg. Discover Norway’s best kept secret and learn about Norway’s art and culture in day full enquiry and discussion.

Astrup Spring Evenings:
Saturday 26 March,
Saturday 23 April ,
Exhibition: 5.30 - 8.30pm,
Dinner: 6.15pm & 8.15pm
Exhibition and audioguide only: £15
Exhibition and two-course meal: £37
Exhibition and three-course meal: £41
Enjoy a drink in the Gallery, join an exhibition tour and try your hand at our Norwegian-inspired art activities in this evening view of Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup.
Book dinner in the café to complete your experience.
Numbers are restricted for a more intimate viewing experience.

Scandinavian Art and Design
27 January, 3, 17 February 
10.30-11.30am/Linbury room
Series of 3 £32, £26 Friends
Single lecture £12, £10 Friends
Coffee afterwards
This series of talks will explore the development of Scandinavian design characterised by an underlying
love of natural forms. Since the late 19th Scandinavian painters, sculptors and designers have achieved a leading place in European art.

Scandimania: Norway and Beyond
13 - 15 May
To coincide with the Gallery's first Norwegian exhibition, Dulwich will celebrate Scandinavian art, design and cuisine with a weekend-long festival. Features an exciting line-up of film screenings, craft activities and live music as well as tours of the exhibition.