The end of the traditional asparagus season is June 24th, which is the day of the Christian celebration of the nativity of John the Baptist. Asparagus, the “White Gold”, is nowadays available much longer, but traditionally it’s a real season-vegetable. In ancient Greece, asparagus was considered a plant with sacred and aphrodisiac virtues. Starting in the 16th century, asparagus was served in the royal courts of Europe and in the 17th century it was cultivated in France for Louis XIV who was, apparently, very fond of it. Only in the 18th century did the asparagus make its appearance on the local marketplace.
Coorte produced small and modest still lifes. On this painting the asparagus, together with some red currants, contrast much with the larger sumptuous still live paintings that were fashionable in those days. Coorte painted on paper which was glued on board, opposed to the large oil on canvas or oil on panel pieces produced by his painter colleagues. Perhaps Coorte was more an amateur painter who had no studio space available and worked from home.
This grand still life by Jacob Foppens van Es is a painting where all the products are neatly displayed next to each other on a tabletop, as was the common way of displaying in the early days of still life painting. The two bundles of asparagus give it a bit of a frivolous touch. He belongs to the first generation of still life painters. Only later the arrangements become more artificially put together and food was painted together with flowers, animals, shells and various objects.
Jan Fyt, a painter from Flanders, travelled quite a bit and worked in Paris, Venice, and Rome. This still life is painted towards the end of his career when he was back in Antwerp and it’s in a remarkable style with free and loose brushstrokes. Almost with an impressionist touch.
Manet, a French painter and key figure in the transition from realism to impressionism, painted this rather big still live with asparagus in a free style, and shows with pleasure the beauty of such simple things like these asparagus on a marble table. It was painted for the French art collector Charles Ephrussi, who gave Manet 1000 francs for it, although Manet only asked for 800 as a purchase price. Manet then painted another much smaller piece with just one asparagus on the same marble tabletop. He sent that as a gift to Charles Ephrussi with a note: “There was one missing from your bunch”. Manet’s bunch of asparagus can be seen in Cologne, the one lonely asparagus is still in Paris.
Louise Moillon is considered one of the best still life painters of her times. About forty paintings remain, which were mostly bought by royalty and nobility. At the age of thirty she married and stopped painting. Louise Moillon’s Basket of Fruit and a Bunch of Asparagus is a composition of all seasons: cherries, grapes, plums and asparagus. All seasonal products, but on this still life painting they live together in a timeless harmony.