This month the Dulwich Picture Gallery opens its show of over 120 works by one of Norway’s most important twentieth century artists, Nikolai Astrup. Among the many landscape scenes is a striking oil painting, Interior Still Life: Living Room at Sandalstrand, which depicts a dining table cloaked in a printed tablecloth and dotted with decorative ceramics, a fruit bowl, some flowers and a cup of tea. Paintings and a large textile hang on the walls behind while plants line the windowsills surrounding the central scene. It is, roughly speaking, the Scandinavian cabin of our dreams. And, if you make the pilgrimage to Jølster (previously known as Sandalstrand ) on the west coast of Norway, you can see it almost exactly as painted in Astrup’s preserved home-now-museum Astruptunet.
The house – actually a series of cabins – perches picturesquely on a steep hillside overlooking the Jølstravatnet lake. Astrup (1880-1928) was brought up accross the lake in Alhus, where his father was the pastor. He dropped out of Cathedral school in his teens to train as an artist – first in Oslo then in Paris. But he returned home in 1902 to focus his attention on the landscapes of Norway that he had come to appreciate while away. Within his collection of paintings and prints a vast number are dedicated to the mountains, lakes and woods of the artist’s striking locale as well as the traditions and folklore that defines the area – trolls, ice queens and Midsummer Eve festivals are all present. The Dulwich Picture Gallery exhibition also charts Astrup’s innovations in printmaking, another central theme of his work.
Astrup lived in Jølster with his wife Engel until he died. Together, over 10 years, the couple transformed the once neglected home and land into a farm that kept their eight children in food, but it’s far more than a mere roof over their heads with its fascinating collection of furniture, folk artifacts and textiles. Engel studied textiles and it is her embroidered and printed curtains, cushions and tablecloths that you can see dotted throughout the home, and in turn, through Astrup’s art. This month’s exhibition is a great way to absorb this artist’s work, though we’re looking into the necessaries towards making the trip to Jolster to complete the picture.