Bonfire celebrating Midsummer Night

  • Artist: Nikolai Astrup
  • Creation date: 1912 og 1926
  • Object type: Painting

On display: Room 061 The Collection Exhibition - Moods and emotions


After completing his training, Nikolai Astrup returned to his home village of Jølster in 1902 to work there as a smallholder, painter, and printmaker. His art is inextricably linked to the nature and people of Jølster. He was nonetheless not himself a member of the peasantry and was thus able to view the lives of his fellow villagers from an outsider’s perspective. His lush depictions of the scenic Western Norwegian nature and of local customs, such as the Midsummer Night’s bonfire, have made him a beloved artist.

Astrup was wont to reuse images that fascinated him, often reduplicating them several times as paintings and colour woodcuts. For example, he depicted the local Midsummer festivities in several painted versions and in both black-and-white and colour woodcuts. The custom of lighting bonfires and gathering for games and dancing on Midsummer Night was a living tradition with symbolic connotations. Astrup was personally interested in humanity’s interdependence with nature, and the Midsummer Night rituals alluded to the magic forces of nature. Blazing bonfires, dancing, and the picking of wild flowers served both protective and invocative purposes.

In the museum’s painting, the large bonfire is the central element of the composition. A dark silhouette against the bright flames testifies to a lonely figure; the other villagers have grouped together on the slope on the other side of the bonfire, talking and flirting with summer gaiety. The scene plays out amidst the mighty Jølster landscape, with the looming Kollen hillcrest serving as the backdrop. The combination of realistic and romantic traits is characteristic of Astrup’s art.

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:
1912 og 1926
Other titles:
Jonsokbål (NOR)
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på papir oppklebet på trefiberplate
  • Height: 88.8 cm
  • Width: 104.9 cm
Acquired 1984
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Børre Høstland/Lathion, Jacques