Adriaen Coorte (c1665–c1707) was a Dutch painter, a generation or two younger than all The Normal Suspects like Rembrandt van Rijn, Gerard Dou, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Nicolaes Maes, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, Willem Van Aelst etc.
Coorte, Vanitas with Skull and Hourglass, 1686, 50 × 41 cm In private collection.
Since only c80 paintings have been attributed to Coorte, we have to assume that art wasn’t his only life (did he run a tavern as well? did he teach?) or that not all his paintings have been identified and catalogued. I am passionate about 17th century still life paintings from the Netherlands, but to say that Coorte’s works are understated is an understatement. They are stark!
Coorte, Still Life with Butterfly, Apricots, Cherries and a Chestnut, 1685, 41 x 35cm.
After 1683, Coorte seemed to have painted mainly small studies of slightly exotic fruit and vegetables on a plain slab of stone eg strawberries, apricots, gooseberries, peaches and watermelon. Or rare biological specimens like coral and tropical shells. The slab of stone was constantly grey, the background was universally dark and shapeless, and any household utensils were simple and cheap.
Venetian Red examined a few Adriaen Coorte paintings, concentrating on pictures where asparagus was a very important, or sole element in the composition.
Bonhams thought that when Coorte had a butterfly hover over the fruit, he was painting it in as a compositional device to punctuate the background and to create a balance to the fruit. I, on the other hand, thought it might have been connected to a vanitas element. Vanitas referred to the meaninglessness of earthly life and the transient nature of vanity. The fruit being painted was sometimes less than perfect, or it may have been a bug or two hovering around. The transient nature of vanity
I have heard of artists fading into oblivion after their death, only to be rediscovered in the 20th century. In this case, it seemed to be the Dutch art historian Laurens Bol who revived Coorte's reputation - Bol published a catalogue raisonné on Coorte in 1977.
More recently, there was an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art Washington DC (2003); the next year the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague were thrilled to borrowed four still lifes by Coorte from a private collection (2004). So this was more than having his career resuscitated. He went from “Adriaen who?” to “this museum urgently needs some Coorte paintings” within a few decades.
Coorte, Still Life with Shells, 1697, 17 × 22 cm. In Maastricht
Consider the December 2009 auction of two of Coorte’s new-found paintings, each of which sailed way over the printed price estimates, including Still Life with a Peach and Two Apricots on a Stone Ledge 1692. Or see Still Life with a Butterfly, Apricots, Cherries and a Chestnut 1685 which was sold, very well, by Sotheby’s in New York in 2011 41 by 35cm.
Coorte, Three Peaches on a Stone Ledge with a Painted Lady Butterfly, mid 1690s
If I wanted to compare the simplicity and relative poverty of Coorte’s images with the lushness of other still life Dutch artists, I could do no better than Willem Claesz, a generation or two earlier. Claesz’s Still Life 1634 in the Rijksmuseum was also small, 45 x 62 cm but several gorgeous objects were arranged on the table: silver drinking bowl, green glass römer (ie a glass with a round bowl and a wide, hollow stem), a tankard and several valuable plates.
Willem Claesz, Still Life, 1634, 45 x 62 cm. In the Rijksmuseum
The Rijksmuseum bought the their first Coorte 100+ years ago but it didn’t seem to excite much attention at the time. Today the Rijksmuseum has 5 Coorte paintings and I presume they will be looking to buy more.