Children Playing

undefined undefined undefined, 1903 - 1903, 665 x 995 mm

Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design

Three children scamper hand in hand in a line across a meadow on a warm summer day. The red dress of the little girl in the middle is an obvious eye-catcher. If we follow the path they are on with our gaze, we arrive at the silhouette of a solitary figure in front of a cluster of farm buildings in the middle ground. The dazzling sunlight creates dark shadows on the walls of the buildings and conceals the farmyard in the landscape. To the left in the picture is a large tree, with branches that appear to twist and turn in every direction. There is nothing supernatural about the motif, and yet there is a disturbing atmosphere in the dark colours.  

“This picture I consider to be my best”. This is how Astrup describes the painting Children Playing while preparing for his solo exhibition arranged by the artist association Kunstnerforbundet in 1911. The painting was exhibited for the first time in 1905, with the title “Dark Sunshine”, and later referred to as “Dark Sun Mysticism” in Astrup’s list. 

The motif is based on a childhood memory and it one of Astrup’s earliest impressions of nature. The artist writes that he “experienced the motif before I was 10 years old and remember that it frightened me for a second; I felt something mystical”. This spontaneous sense perception is articulated via the form and colours: “this was the kind of close, strange feeling of mysticism – sun mysticism – that one can sense as a child, when one has played and scampered in dazzling sunlight, until one becomes nearly blinded and then suddenly the sunlight appears almost dark – with shadows everywhere”. The details are erased, and among other things the walls of the houses are depicted as monochrome planes.

A central strategy, in this respect, is the attire of the child in the middle row. Astrup accentuates the dress in a “shrill loud red” and explains: “this colour has for me something about it that resembles the sound of a trumpet (perhaps this is just an illusion).” The sound – or the colour – may seem frightening and disturbing, in contrast to the calm, green landscape. The remark also reveals something about Astrup’s experience with colours as sound and music. It might actually suggest that the artist had synaesthesia, which implies that an impression can affect multiple senses, even though only one of the senses is affected. In Astrup's case, it’s a question of “coloured hearing”, in which sounds are associated with colours. 

The motif also contains a reference to Norwegian folk music. Astrup has given a variation of the motif the title “Kjærringa med staven” (The Old Woman with a Cane), better known as Summer Wind and Children Playing (K115; 1913). This is a reference to the Norwegian folksong and stev traditions and the circle game of the same name, and which the children in the painting are dancing to. The motif and text is illustrated in the book Norsk Billedbog for Börn (Norwegian Picture Book for Children) from 1890, which Astrup may have had access to in his childhood. The motif depicts the innocent play and secure existence of childhood, in contrast to the disturbing character of the surroundings. 

In 1905 Cissy Mathiesen purchased the painting for 100 kroner at Astrup's solo exhibition at Blomqvist Art Dealers, and 50 years later – in 1955, she bequeathed it to the National Gallery.  

In 1927 Astrup describes the colours as follows – although without having seen the painting since 1911: “A Deep ultramarine sky with rather large polar stratospheric clouds. Moist brown, newly ploughed fields. Marigolds. Against the ‘blind-grey houses and other ‘brilliant’ colours (meadows) is a shrill loud red dress (worn by a little girl). Matte green field and a blue and white striped “” (worn by a little boy). Nearly black mountain shadow. An old willow tree full of sun-warmed air heavy with dust and mixed with yellow – in its silvery crown. The picture has unfortunately faded.” Whether this is true is unknown.


Nikolai Astrup



Cecilie Marie Mathiesen




1905-4-1 - 1905-4-30

Nikolai Astrup

Kristiania (Oslo)


1911-1-22 - 1911-2-12

Nikolai Astrup

Kristiania (Oslo)


1928-10-10 - 1928-11-4

Nikolai Astrup. Mindeutstilling



1928-11-11 - 1928-12-9

Nikolai Astrup. Mindeutstilling

Kristiania (Oslo)


2016-5-1 - 2016-5-5

Nikolai Astrup Painting Norway



2016-6-10 - 2016-9-11

Nikolai Astrup Norske Landskap



2016-10-2 - 2017-1-22

Nikolai Astrup: Norwegen. Eine Entdeckung




1906-9-29 - 1906-12-1

Den Norske Udstilling



Carey, Frances; Dejardin, Ian A. C.; Stevens, MaryAnne, Painting Norway. Nikolai Astrup (1880–1928). Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers Ltd. London, 2016, 88.

C. W. Blomqvist Kunsthandel, Kvittering (receipt). 1905–04–27, [no].

Loge, Øystein, Gartneren under regnbuen. Hjemstavnskunstneren Nikolai Astrup. Dreyers Forlag. Oslo, 1986, 298.