Astri Aasen

1875-1935
Astri Aasen's father, a goldsmith, moved to Trondheim from Kristiansund in 1874. The family was hit hard by illness. Her mother died from consumption [pulmonary tuberculosis] when Astri was two. Three young siblings died in short order in 1880-82, and the two oldest sisters died of pneumonia within a month of each other in 1892, barely 20 years old. Nor did the goldsmith business prove to be lucrative for Nils Aasen, as he went bankrupt in 1887. He later made a successful comeback due to his skills and inventiveness.
It is not surprising that Astri Aasen took an interest in art and design at an early stage in her life. Her first steps in this direction were taken in the photography profession, and for a period of time she worked on retouching for a photographer in Ålesund. But she had talent for "free art", and she received her first schooling in Asor Hansen's school for painters in Bergen in 1900.
As the only woman in the visual arts community in Trondheim, her life as a painter must have been challenging: She needed to gain acceptance from her local colleagues, while the artist community in Trondheim also struggled with the provincialism label pasted on them by the art critics in the capital. Harriet Backer, a leading figure among Norway's female painters, was a very important contact for Astri Aasen. She was a student at Backer's school for painters in Kristiania [now Oslo] for two periods between 1903 and 1909. Backer's encouraging guidance had a liberating and developing effect on Astri Aasen, and the two of them maintained a close connection for the rest of their lives. As most of her colleagues, Aasen also enjoyed inspiring stays abroad, allowing her talent to develop.
Primarily Astri Aasen is known as a home-town artist. Most of those who assess her work highlight her portrait skills, while many others feel that much of her best work was in sketching and graphic art.
Astri Aasen did not have a long life. In 1943 her sister Kristine established a legacy fund, Astri Aasens gave [Astri Aasen's gift], in memory of her sister the painter. It offers funding to young persons with a talent in the visual arts, preferably women. The fund is awarded on Astri's birthday, 3 September.
Recommended reading: Norsk kunstnerleksikon [Encyclopaedia of Norwegian Arts], volume 4. Universitetsforlaget, 1982.

Author: Einar Rædergård