LONDON - With our twice yearly London sales of 19th Century European Paintings regularly feature works that due to their genesis and provenance become truly emblematic of a particular corner of the Continent, however small and isolated it was then, or may seem to us now. Such instances often serve to shine a fresh light on the artist, his milieu and a picture’s subsequent history. One such fine example in our sale on 20 November is a glorious panoramic view of Ålshustunet, Jølster, by Norwegian painter Nikolai Astrup. Steeped in local history, and prized as a keepsake by the same farming family from Jølster ever since it was painted, the work’s subject and provenance venerate both the soil of Norway and pay tribute to the ambitions of the Mid-West settlers who emigrated with the painting to the United States.
Nikolai Astrup’s Ålshustunet, Jølster. Estimate £150,000 – 200,000.
Like Gustave Courbet painting his native Ornans in the Jura, Astrup records in this landscape the sense of wonder and order to be found in his native Jølster. Painted in early summer, at the heart of Astrup’s panorama lies the small farming community of Ålshus where his father was the local pastor and where he spent his childhood.
Commenting on his deep-rooted affinity with his home terrain of Jølster the artist wrote: “That smell and mouldy dampness of old heathendom and primitive religion, that earth rich in sagas; these often raw colours that have more importance than as mere subjects for my pictures… this in my opinion is what motifs should be to all painters, that they in other words should be closer bound to the earth.”
View of Ålhustnet, Jølster.
In light of such sentiments it was entirely appropriate that until now the painting has remained with the same historic farming family, the Nedrebøs, who have farmed in Jølster for over 300 years. Indeed, there are still Nedrebøs working the land there to this day.
For the painting’s first owners, Anders and Martha Nedrebø, it wasn’t just a depiction of the local landscape, but a treasured memento of the life that they had left behind. One of nine children, five of whom immigrated to the United States, Anders married in 1880 and settled in DeLamere, North Dakota and started what became a successful farm. Anders and his wife returned to Jølster on various occasions, including for the celebration marking three centuries of the family farming there. It was on one such trip that they purchased this work, an acquisition that would forever remind them of their roots in Jølster and evoke the values, customs and landscape that defined their youth and formed their lives.
Nedrebøs family farming in North Dakota.