For the love of strawberries

A Bowl of Strawberries on a Stone Plinth (1696) by Adriaen Coorte
A Bowl of Strawberries on a Stone Plinth (1696) by Adriaen Coorte

It’s truly amazing how a work of art from 1696 can feel so stylish, so modern. But Adriaen Coorte (1659/1664-after 1707) had no time travelling machine; he just had a keen eye and knew how to depict fruits and vegetables with a sense of grace and poetry. He used those gifts to paint A Bowl of Strawberries on a Stone Plinth. The only thing that Coorte wasn’t good at, was getting the perspective right; he has trouble with the views of tables or plinths.  It’s his giveaway. Also look at the depiction of the bowl, the ‘testje’ as it was called in his day. That’s not amateur pottery, that’s Coorte’s inability.

The Rijks Conserven for the Rijksmuseum wouldn’t be complete without a typical Dutch ‘aardbeziemoes’. And it would be hard to ignore Coorte, if you’re looking for a Dutch still life from the 17th century containing strawberries. The artist simply adored strawberries, loved them with a passion and painted them several times, of which eight times in a ‘fruittestje’, an old Dutch bowl used for fruit.

The Flemish influence

Although Coorte’s strangely modern still lifes are easily recognisable, hardly anything is known about his life. Coorte was born in Middelburg, where he presumably lived and worked for most of his life. The city was the capital of Zeeland and a prosperous trading center that gained much of its wealth from Flemish émigrés and the presence of the Dutch East and West India Companies. According to some, this Flemish presence inspired Coorte to paint his small-scale, delicate images of carefully observed fruits and vegetables. They point to the Flemish artist Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621), who spent most of his career in Middelburg and was known for his aesthetically appealing small-scale images of flowers and fruits.

Others believe the small, sober, intimate compositions of Coorte’s later still lifes are influenced by the Haarlem or the Amsterdam school of painting. These later works, such as A Bowl of Strawberries on a Stone Plinth, appeared after Coorte presumably quit for six years – or went up north? In 1696 he resurfaced with this different, now characteristic style; only a few pieces of fruit or vegetables, depicted on a plinth against a dark backdrop. Mistakes attributing works to Coorte aren’t easily made: he left about 80 carefully signed and dated works of art.

To see is to praise

Coorte stayed relatively unknown throughout the 18th and 19th century and his works remained largely in Zeeland. But then art collector Andries Arnoldus de Tombe (1818-1902) died and left his collection to the Mauritshuis in The Hague. They received Vermeer’s Girl with the pearl earring and Still life with asparagus (1697) by Coorte. This still life went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, where they actually hung it out for the public to see. The asparagus soon became a favourite of many a visitor and Coorte finally, after two centuries of near silence, got the praise he deserved.

All of the Rijks Conserven, including the strawberry confiture, are available at the webshop of the Rijksmuseum.

Fenneke van der Aa

Fenneke van der Aa is an art historian and journalist. For Spoon of Art she explores and writes about the merging of art, history and food.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *