The naturalistic visual artist from Jølster in Western Norway can have his US breakthrough 93 years after his death. The first Nikolai Astrup exhibition in North America nokosinne recently opened at the renowned Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts.
The exhibition “Out of the Shadow” contains close to 100 known and unknown works by the artist.
– We have pretty good control over how Astrup’s pictures stay. But in the process of making the exhibition, other private collections appeared that we did not know about, says Petter Snare, director of the art museum KODE in Bergen.
13 new works by the Jølster artist have been discovered in connection with research, which has been part of the preparations. Most of these are prints of already known motifs. But completely out of the blue, a painting appeared with a motif that no one knew about.
Neither KODE, which manages an Astrup collection of 1100 works, nor Astruptunet, the hometown of Astrup which is now a museum, knew of the work “Gray spring evening and flowering fruit tree” from 1909.
– It is not often that things appear of Astrup that we have not seen before, says Snare.
One casual lunch
The background for the discovery was a trip in 2019 when KODE director Petter Snare was in the USA and met the Norwegian art collector Lise Stolt-Nielsen. When the director said he was working on an Astrup exhibition, the art collector could reveal what would make Astrup experts tremble with excitement.
Stolt-Nielsen had two paintings by Nikolai Astrup in his collection. One in the USA and one in Norway.
– I was simply very excited when I heard it, says the British curator MaryAnne Stevens, who has worked with Nikolai Astrup’s works for ten years.
MaryAnne Stevens has curated the exhibition at the Clark Institute in the USA. And in 2016 she put together the Nikolai Astrup exhibition, which was a great success in London, among other things.
She said that new Astrup works appear from time to time, but that the painting with the name “Gray spring evening and flowering fruit tree” was particularly unusual.
Unusual detail casts doubt
The painting is both signed and dated, not only with the year 1909, but with the exact date, 7 June.
– This is so unusual to be Nikolai Astrup that I wondered if it really was Astrup’s work, says Mary Anne Stevens.
She had only seen one photograph of the painting. But when she got to come to the USA to see the work, she was in no doubt, this was Astrup.
The painting was interesting for several reasons. The technique was more open than it had been between 1900 and 1907. Moreover, the picture is quite telling for the artistic crisis Astrup went through at that time, according to Stevens.
– For several years, Astrup was unsure of which direction he should go and how the quality of the car should be. He even went on an inspiration trip to Berlin in 1911, where he was apprenticed to one of the really great artists, Lovis Corinth. This work is particularly enlightening in that connection, Mary Anne Stevens told NRK.
– How often does it happen that Astrup paintings of this kind appear?
– It is relatively rare. The reason is that there is so much of Astrup’s art that is still in original collections. There is a lot of pride associated with Astrup and the tendency is to stick to the art within the family and pass it on to the next generation, so that it does not come on the market, says Stevens.
Now the painting, in addition to ten other newly discovered works, is part of the exhibition that hangs in the USA. In October, the exhibition, including the sensational painting, will come to KODE in Bergen.
– It is a fantastically nice picture, and an important find in the history of Astrup, says director at KODE, Petter Snare.