Bird on a Stone

  • Artist: Nikolai Astrup
  • Creation date: Mellom 1905 og 1914
  • Object type: Print

Not on display


Nikolai Astrup worked as both a painter and a printmaker. Though painting was his main field, his prints demonstrate the same originality and artistic quality. Astrup’s main passion was for landscapes. His depictions are closely linked to his local community, Jølster in Sunnfjord in Western Norway, which he knew well ever since childhood. He was particularly fascinated by the diverse moods created by the changing of the seasons and the ever-shifting weather, with the distinctive landscape formations serving as a fixed point of reference. In colour woodcuts Astrup found a medium that was particularly well-suited for retaining parts of an image and varying others. By combining prints from a fixed plate with plates where he had changed certain parts of the image and the colours, he could depict a variety of moods, even as the landscape was largely the same. While the conventional method in colour prints is to use a single plate for each colour, Astrup often painted several colours on a single plate, and he also frequently painted directly on the print. It is the prints’ tonal vibrancy that instils his colour woodcuts with the characteristics of painting.

All the variants that Astrup made of Bird on a Stone are spring pictures. The differences are largely aesthetic, although he once noted in a letter on two particular versions that he envisioned the first one as a day or evening mood and the second one as a nocturnal spring mood. The picture is typified by its decorative elements, and its light, lyrical tone has made this woodcut one of Astrup’s most popular.

Text: Sidsel Helliesen

From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0


Nikolai Astrup

Visual artist, Graphic artist, Painter, Drawing artist

Born 1880 in Bremanger, Sogn og Fjordane, death 1928 in Førde

Nikolai Astrup was an active painter and graphic artist. The motifs in his works largely depict the rural area of Jølster, as he sought to recreate the lush beauty of the natural surroundings there.

Astrup grew up in Jølster and lived there most of his life, apart from the period he spent studying art in Kristiania and one year in Paris.

The landscapes of his childhood

Astrup’s father was a parish priest in the community, and the parsonage where the family lived was a damp and draughty old building. Nikolai Astrup was severely asthmatic, and the poor living conditions exacerbated his condition. As a boy, he was often forced to seek the cool night air outside to be able to breathe. The landscapes he absorbed on his wanderings in those bright summer nights reverberated in his memory. Astrup’s artistic ambition was to reproduce the intense colours and moods of the nature he had experienced as a child.

Painter and graphic artist

Nikolai Astrup considered himself primarily a painter. Nevertheless, the woodcuts he produced were among his most original and innovative works. Astrup began working with woodcuts at a time when Edvard Munch was the only other Norwegian artist experimenting with the technique. Like Munch, Astrup was self-taught as a graphic artist, but he quickly mastered the medium. Astrup’s first woodcut was a small, black and white self-portrait in 1904. Soon afterwards he began to experiment with colour prints, which requires carving several blocks of wood and applying ink to the paper in multiple layers. 

Japanese Jølster atmosphere

Bird on a Stone is one of Astrup’s most popular woodcuts. This motif is often pointed out as an example of the inspiration Astrup drew from Japanese woodcuts. Even his signature, incised in the block of wood and visible on the right-hand side of the print, seems to imitate the position of the characters in Japanese woodcuts. Astrup often painted directly on a completed woodcut to add a little colour where he felt it was missing. In Bird on a Stone, for instance, he used a brush to paint the green of the branches and enhance the grey of the stumps..

Work info

Creation date:
Mellom 1905 og 1914
Other titles:
Fugl på sten (NOR)
Martzstemning (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Håndkolorert fargetresnitt på papir
  • Width: 330 mm
  • Height: 475 mm
Motif - type:
Purchased 1976
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Nerdrum, Knut Øystein