COORTE, Adriaen
(active 1683-1707 around Middelburg)


Dutch still-life painter whose work was completely forgotten for more than two centuries after his death.

Only recently some details of Coorte's life have been unearthed; he was born in IJzendijke, a small town in Zeeuws Vlaanderen in the province of Zeeland. In 1675 he moved with his mother to Middelburg and later he may have moved to Vlissingen. Dated paintings by the artist range from the years 1683-1707. His earliest works feature birds in landscapes and are so close in style to the works of Melchior d'Hondecoeter (1636-1695) that it has led to speculation that Coorte may have worked with him in Amsterdam. Most works by Coorte were to be found in collections in Middelburg and its vicinity leading to the conclusion that this is where the artist spent the greater part of his career. In addition, in a written record from the 1695/96 yearbooks of the painters' Guild of Saint Luke in Middelburg, it is noted that an artist referred to as "Coorde" was fined for selling paintings in that city without being a guild member. By that date, Coorte had been an active painter for at least 13 years and it is therefore probable that he did not live in Middelburg any longer and could not have been a member of the painters guild in that city. From this, some scholars have deduced that Coorte was perhaps a gentleman painter or amateur.

Today, Coorte's known oeuvre consists of about sixty-four paintings. Many of his compositions depict natural objects set on a stone ledge against a dark background. From the mid-1690s onward, many of Coorte's works were painted on paper laid down on panel, or laid down on canvas. Such a technique was highly unusual in the 17th and 18th centuries, though it seems to have been Coorte's preferred working method.

His surviving paintings show Coorte to have been one of the most individual still-life painters of his time. They are the complete opposite of the lavish pieces by such celebrated contemporaries as Jan van Huysum and Rachel Ruysch, for they are small in scale and depict a few humble objects, characteristically placed on a bare ledge. The intensity of his scrutiny is such, however, that they take on something of the mystical quality of the still-lifes of Sanchez Cotán or Zurbarán, and the hovering butterfly that Coorte sometimes incorporates in his work may have allegorical significance. One of his favourite subjects was a bundle of asparagus (examples in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, and the Ashmolean, Oxford).