One can enjoy a wood fire worthily only when he warms his thoughts by it as well as his hands and feet. ~Odell Shepard
The sun had just set as we made our way through the misty gloom of a winter’s evening towards the flickering lights ahead. As we passed through the gates, the magical fire garden instantly entranced us. In the mid-distance flames danced amongst the trees, illuminating the early yellow daffodils. Closer by fiery mechanical flowers breathed bursts of red-hot flame into the damp winter air from arches above our heads. For a while, the slumbering winter garden of the Dulwich Picture Gallery was transformed into an uplifting, burning midsummer homage to a rather unknown Norwegian artist, Nikolai Astrup.
From the most pagan of times fire has been central to the celebrations of the deepest midwinter and the longest midsummer nights. Astrup painted the Midsummer Eve bonfires from his childhood memories; a theme that he returned to again and again. These bonfires were typically built of green wood, making them all about the smoke which billows and flows across Astrup’s Norwegian summer landscapes. Small motifs from his paintings were reflected in the fire art outside, which captured the movement and shapes of those traditional celebrations.
We spent far longer than planned wandering amongst the burning trees and flowers as the magic of the flames captivated us. A few hours later the fierceness of the fires gradually diminished and the winter darkness crept back, taking possession of the night garden, yet the sense of magic lingered long after we left for home.
Although the Fire Garden has now been extinguished, the exceedingly comprehensive exhibition of Astrups work is on until May.
©Chez l’abeille 2016