Astrup’s early works on show

"His childhood drawings were for Astrup an important source of inspiration. They put him in the right mind-set", says Tove Haugsbø, curator for KODE’s new Astrup exhibition.

For the exhibition ‘Nikolai Astrup – The Way Home’, Haugsbø has selected several works from the collection which have never before been on show, among others, the drawings he made as a child.

According to Astrup, a child’s gaze was perfect for depicting nature sincerely and directly. Astrup had saved over 900 childhood sketches and drawings, so to transport himself back to those early years, he kept the drawings in scrapbooks and leafed through them whenever he needed inspiration.

Young man with the dream of being an artist
Haugsbø, who is a newly appointed curator at KODE, completed a PhD on Nikolai Astrup in 2015.

"It’s exciting to present the whole breadth of his art. The exhibition shows how, even from an early age, he had a unique way of depicting a scene. He was a natural colourist", says Haugsbø.

The works in the exhibition trace Astrup’s development from the time he was a young boy with a powerful dream of becoming an artist, via the years he studied with Harriet Backer in Oslo and Christian Krogh in Paris, to later works produced in a range of techniques and in his home district of Jølster. The exhibition also presents several works by some of Astrup’s contemporaries, and these have been selected on the basis of letters Astrup wrote. It turns out the young Astrup was a very well-reflected boy.

"As a 17 year-old, he wrote a 40-page letter that included a critical analysis of Norwegian contemporary artists. He lauded Theodor Kittelsen for his imagination and Erik Werenskiold for his depictions of peasant life, but he thought Fritz Thaulow lacked feelings and imagination", relates Haugsbø.

Headed for the priesthood
The scrapbooks show Astrup’s marked enthusiasm for art even as a child. But his father wanted something different and sent him to Trondheim to study theology when he was 15. Two years later Astrup quit school, returned home and gave his parents an unequivocal message: he was going to be an artist.

Astrup did not study long to become an artist. He spent one year at Harriet Backer’s painting school in Kristiania (Oslo), then some months at the Académie Colarossi with Christian Krohg in Paris. In 1902, at 22 years old, he returned to his home in Jølster. Haugsbø relates that despite his brief studies, his two teachers agreed that Astrup had exceptional talent and should actually have as little academic instruction as possible.

"The teachers recognised his unique flair for colour and atmospheric conditions and were afraid to ruin that. Astrup was also praised for how he captured the personalities of those he portrayed. Backer thought he should become a portrait painter", says Haugsbø. Several of Astrup’s portraits of Jølster’s inhabitants are included in the exhibition and clearly exemplify this.

The Astrup year
In 2016 Nikolai Astrup’s art will be celebrated with the large international traveling exhibition ‘Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928)’. The exhibition will first open at Dulwich Picture Gallery in London on 4 February 2016. Find out more about Astrup’s international tour.

In October 2015, it was announced that the DNB Savings Bank Foundation will give NOK 10 million to setting up a Nikolai Astrup centre at KODE. The project will help ‘write’ Astrup into international art history. With Astrup as the starting point, the centre will also put the relation between art and nature on the international art map.

"2016 will be a big year for Nikolai Astrup, and we’re proud that our Astrup collection is such an important part of the traveling exhibition. In connection with this, it’s also natural to create a new and strong Astrup presentation here in Bergen", says KODE’s director Karin Hindsbo.

The exhibition ‘Nikolai Astrup – The Way Home’ will be on show at KODE throughout 2016. Find out more about the exhibition

Til KODEs nye Astrup-utstilling har Tove Haugsbø plukket ut flere verk fra samlingene som ikke tidligere er vist, blant annet Astrups samling med barndomstegninger (foto: Dag Fosse).