There’s no place like home, and for Norwegian artist Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) it was the focus of his life’s work.
Over 90 of his romantic, colourful paintings depicting early 20th-century life in his native district of Jølster feature in Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Last June, photographer Stuart Leech visited Astrup’s former homestead on Jølstravatnet lake, some 200km from Bergen to see why it captivated the artist. Now know as Astruptunet, the cluster of buildings are inaccessible during winter months but in the summer the surrounding landscape takes on a dazzling quality.
‘The light is really bright on the horizon – I haven’t seen that anywhere else,’ says Leech. ‘It’s lush, green, striking… but not overwhelming. And it doesn’t really get dark in June so it’s very intense in that sense.’
Astrup purchased the old farm at Sandalstrand in 1913 and lived and worked there with his wife Engel and their eight children until his death from pneumonia at the age of 48. Along with a barn turned gallery, there are several cabins containing living areas and studio space that have been preserved and are dotted with period furniture and Engel’s block prints. Guided tours are available, but Astruptunet welcomes few visitors.
‘It’s quite small and looked after in a very basic way,’ adds Leech, ‘but very peaceful and quiet. It’s very homely.”
The exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery is Astrup’s first significant show outside of Norway and his work is relatively unknown beyond his homeland. ‘He’s very niche. He only painted one area. Usually artists move around,’ says Leech. ‘Hopefully this [exhibition] will bring him more into the mainstream.’
‘Nikolai Astrup: Painting Norway’ runs at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 15 May