Unraveling the Artistic Genius of Nikolai Astrup: An Insight into His Trademark Landscapes

Published Categorized as Artists

I’ve always been captivated by the mesmerizing artwork of Nikolai Astrup. He’s one of Norway’s most cherished painters, yet his name often flies under the radar in international art circles.

Astrup’s work is a vibrant fusion of realist and symbolic elements, deeply rooted in his love for his native land. His landscapes of Jølster, a small village in Western Norway, are nothing short of magical.

In a world saturated with renowned artists, it’s easy to overlook the brilliance of lesser-known figures like Astrup. But trust me, dive into his world of art and you’ll discover a rich tapestry of colors, emotions, and Norwegian folklore.

Early Life and Influences

Born in Bremanger in 1880, Nikolai Astrup was the son of a clergyman. He was introduced to the bounty of nature at a tender age and this early exposure played an indispensable role in his artistic journey.

Astrup attended the Royal School of Drawing in Oslo from 1899 to 1901. It’s through this institute that he honed his emerging talent, solidifying the foundations of his artistic expressions. During his time in Oslo, he was deeply influenced by the artwork of Harriet Backer, a leader in Scandinavian Realism.

Upon completing his run at the Royal School, he ventured on to study art in Germany and England. It was there that he developed an appreciation for symbolism – a genre that allows artists to express abstract ideas through physical forms. Although realism formed the backbone of Astrup’s artwork, his exploration of symbolism added a dash of mystic charm to his representations.

In 1902, Astrup returned to his homeland, pitching his abode in Jølster. This place, with its unique landscapes, diversity of colors and rich culture, served as an endless source of inspiration. It’s here in Jølster where the magic of nature intertwined with the folklore of the area. From enchanting moonlit nights to luminous summer days, these elements found regular placement in Astrup’s works and became his signature style.

Another key influence in Astrup’s growth as an artist was his friendship with the esteemed art critic, Jens Thiis. Their intellectual exchanges inspired Astrup to pen multiple scholarly articles on art, adding another feather to his cap.

Astrup didn’t merely adopt a style, he lived it. He transformed his experiences, his perceptions, and his beliefs into spectacular creations on canvas. Seeing the world through the lens of Astrup is to witness a fusion of visual realism with a poetic and symbolic undercurrent. His stimulating upbringing, along with the influences of outstanding artists in his life, set the stage for his extraordinary work.

Unique Style and Techniques

A deep dive into Astrup’s artistry reveals a unique fusion of Scandinavian Realism and symbolism, resulting in a distinctive style that I’ve rarely seen elsewhere in the art scene. Not only did Astrup’s upbringing instill in him a profound love for nature, but it also inspired numerous paintings that resonated with his audience. His indelible connection to the environment shines through in his art, making each piece a manifestation of his profound admiration for the natural world.

In the course of his artistic development, Astrup developed a unique technique called the “Astrup touch” – a fusion of contrasting elements that resulted in layered and textured paintings. He often made use of thick impasto – a technique where paint is laid on a canvas in very thick layers – and soft, smooth brush strokes. This juxtaposition of hard and soft, in conjunction with alternating bright and dark colors, created a compelling depth and dynamism in his paintings.

While studying at the Royal School of Drawing in Oslo, Astrup’s mentor, Eilif Peterssen, introduced him to the Scandinavian Realist tradition. This set the foundation for Astrup’s stylistic approach, while the influence of symbolism resulted in works characterized by their vibrant colors, emotive lines, and evocative themes. His connection to symbolism can be seen in many paintings like “Marsh Marigold Night” – a piece that highlights Astrup’s love for the fantastical, mystical elements in everyday life.

When it comes to the use of colors, Astrup excelled. He was known for vibrant hues that reflected the natural beauty of his surroundings in Jølster. His play with light, and his masterful transitions from shade to sunlight, from evening glow to pitch black, are testimonies to his genius. As you leaf through his various works, it’s evident that his mastery over light and color is exceptional, adding vitality and depth to his scenes.

Astrup’s relationship with art critic Jens Thiis, and his scholarly writings, also left indelible marks on his artistic prowess. Thiis exposed Astrup to a broad spectrum of artistic styles and movements, further enriching the versatility of his work.

In the realm of art, Astrup remains a true champion of the fusion of realism and symbolism, creating artwork that is as deeply personal as it is universally relatable.

Love for Jølster Landscapes

Astrup’s love for Jølster’s landscapes was not just a fascination, it was a profound connection that deeply influenced his art. The mountains, the weather, the subtle play of light across the water—all these elements of nature found their way into his art.

In many ways, it was in Jølster that Astrup discovered his artistic voice. The townsfolk, the landscapes, and the changing seasons in this small community nestled among mountains, all fueled his creativity and passion. The hardy grit and determination of the people, going about their everyday lives despite the harsh weather, instilled in him a deep admiration for their tenacity. This admiration often translated into not just beautiful landscapes, but also captivating depictions of rural life in his art.

In his painting “Marsh Marigold Night“, one can see how Astrup’s signature technique—the “Astrup touch”—beautifully combines elements like the darker shades of the mountains with the vibrancy of the marigold flowers. Every one of his paintings with a Jølster setting is unique, each telling a distinct story about the people or the landscape. From the smallest detail of a boat on the lake to sweeping panoramas of the countryside, Astrup’s art captured the essence of Jølster with striking authenticity.

Art critic Jens Thiis, in one of his reviews, marveled at Astrup’s talent for infusing his artwork with a mood that encapsulated the spirit of Jølster. According to Thiis, Astrup’s paintings could make spectators feel as though they were standing right there, in the heart of Jølster, experiencing a moment in time.

Nikolai Astrup’s art went beyond creating pretty pictures. It was a vibrant reflection of his love for Jølster. Astrup’s body of work showcases a unique blend of Scandinavian Realism and symbolism, bringing the natural and human landscapes of Jølster to life on the canvas.

Legacy and Recognition

Delving into the legacy left by Nikolai Astrup, we’ll find that his work continues to influence contemporary art. His love for Jølster’s landscapes and his unique ‘Astrup touch’ technique managed to create a significant mark in the spectrum of Scandinavian art.

His paintings hold more than just an aesthetic appeal – they have historical and cultural significance too. They reflect rural life and the changing seasons of Jølster, all stitched together with the threads of his own personal experiences and observations.

Everyone who saw Astrup’s work could genuinely feel the raw, robust spirit of Jølster landscapes. Given this undeniable talent and impact, Astrup quickly gained widespread recognition during his lifetime and continues to be hailed in the art world even today.

Jens Thiis, a prominent critic in the sphere of art, was one of the quick observers who noticed Astrup’s unique style and praised his ability to encapsulate the spirit of landscapes. He noted, “Astrup’s art carries a deep echo. He does not only see the nature but also listens to it. It speaks to you like a friend, tells you its joys and sorrows.”

Moreover, institutions worldwide also bestowed honors upon Astrup for his remarkable contributions to the field of art. For instance:

  • In 1905, Astrup won the Henrichsens legat, a prestigious award in the realm of art.
  • His work is now prominently housed in several renowned museums, including the National Museum in Oslo, KODE Art Museums and Composer Homes in Bergen, and Dulwich Picture Gallery in London.


Nikolai Astrup’s legacy lives on in the art world, his unique ‘Astrup touch’ technique and passion for Jølster’s landscapes still resonating today. His work, a blend of aesthetic appeal and historical narrative, offers a glimpse into rural life and the changing seasons of Jølster. Astrup’s ability to capture the spirit of landscapes has earned him acclaim from critics like Jens Thiis and a place in prestigious museums globally. His artistry continues to be celebrated, reminding us of the lasting impact one artist can have on contemporary art. Astrup’s life and work serve as a testament to the power of art to connect us with our past, our environment, and our shared human experience.

Categorized as Artists