Tag: Coorte

Asparagus in Art

Asparagus in Art

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.

Adriaen Coorte (1660 – 1707), “Asparagus and red currants on a stone ledge” (c.1695), 34x24cm, Oil on Paper on Board, Auctioned Christies 2012, Private Collection.

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.

Jacob Foppens van Es (1596 – 1666), “Still Life with Fish, Asparagus, Artichokes, Cheese and Other Delicacies” (c.1631), 82x138cm, Oil on Canvas, Auctioned Sotheby’s 2011, Private Collection.

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 Fijt (1611 – 1661), “Vase of Flowers and Two Bunches of Asparagus” (c.1650), 64x75cm, Oil on Canvas, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

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.

Edouard Manet (1832–1883), “Bunch of Asparagus” (1880), 46x55cm, Oil on Canvas, Wallraf–Richartz Museum, Cologne, Germany.

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.

Edouard Manet (1832-1883), “L’asperge” (1880), 17x22cm, Oil on Canvas, Musée d’Orsay, Paris.
Louise Moillon (1610 – 1696), “Still Life with a Basket of Fruit and a Bunch of Asparagus” (1630), 53x71cm, Oil on Panel, Art Institute Chicago.

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.

Adriaen Coorte (active 1683 – 1707)

It’s summer; fruits and vegetables galore! And that’s what Adriaen Coorte painted. Mini still lifes, the size of a postcard, often painted just on paper. Around 60 of these fragile works of beauty still exist and were mostly collected by the 17th Century elite in the province of Zeeland in the south-western part of The Netherlands. Fortunately Adriaen Coorte signed and dated his paintings, because that artistic legacy is all we know about the artist himself. Mystery surrounds his personal life.

Adriaen Coorte (active 1683 – 1707), “Still Life with Gooseberries” (1701), 30x23cm, Oil on Paper, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio.

There are some records of a family of rope and cord makers in IJzendijke, a small city in Zeeland. Their family name “Coorte” means “cord”, and amongst the family members is  a certain “Adriaen Coorte”. Could this be our painter? This Adriaen had 3 brothers and we know more about them. They were sailor and soldier on ships for the Dutch East and West India Companies. Maybe Adriaen stayed at home and painted his delicate paintings as an amateur painter? He certainly lived far away from the influence of centers of art like Amsterdam and he invented his own personal and unique style.

The fruits and vegetables Coorte painted are seasonal and a bit special. Peaches, apricots, asparagus, wild strawberries: these are delights that could be found in the gardens of the Zeeland merchant elite. They collected exotic plants that arrived in Zeeland with the trading ships coming back from the Far East and West.

Adriaen Coorte (active 1683 – 1707), Still Life with Asparagus and Red Currants” (1696), 34x25cm, Oil on Canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington.

But what to paint in winter? How about exotic shells! And that’s another specialty of Adriaen Coorte. Maybe he got these on loan from a local wealthy trader who collected precious goods from around the world, or he got these as gifts from his brothers who took these from far-away exotic places? Adriaen remains a person of mystery. We only know him through his wonderful paintings. Adriaen Coorte is not anonymous, but now almost a “Banksy” of his own time.