Nikolai Astrup's paintings were the first of the Scandinavian landscape-Modernists to really grab my attention. He was born in Jolster, a rural district of Norway, situated right between the magnificent Sognefjord and Nordfjord. He was a student of the influential artist and teacher Harriet Backer in Oslo, later studying in Paris. After further travels through Europe he returned to Jolster, where he spent most of the rest of his professional life.
Looking at a photo of the region today, it's easy to see why he stayed, letting the landscape work its way through his consciousness and onto his canvases.
The humans he places in these landscapes can have a rather wild, pagan feel to them, so roughly and deeply integrated into the natural world they seem. They remind me of the character of Isak, the hero of Knut Hamsun's amazing epic of rural life, The Growth of the Soil -- so rooted in the land that he is a part of it, in all of its unthinking vitality, its harshness and magnificence.
Like an ingenious husbandman, bound to place, Astrup reworked the same land again and again, in different media and genres.
Humans in landscape.
The fraught romance of domesticity and wilderness.
Humans become landscape; landscape becomes human.
And again and again, there is one mountain, appearing as in a dying person's memories of a childhood home:
That mountain, and the comfortable home beneath it: it can be transformed into something stark and ominous, as well, as death approaches:
In Astrup's work, antinomies are posed and resolved...
...and we are home.