COORTE, Adriaen
(active 1683-1707 around Middelburg)

Three Medlars with a Butterfly

c. 1705
Oil on paper on panel, 27 x 20 cm
Private collection

Except for the artists who made the exact drawings and watercolours of birds, plants, insects, and shells which were so popular with 'dilettanti' of the period, the Dutch tradition of painting unpretentious still-lifes virtually died during the eighteenth century. Adriaen Coorte, a strong individualist who never adopted the rhetoric of his contemporaries, was one of the last practitioners of this intimate category.

The exquisite flowers and fruit, expensive vases and metalware, drapery and linen, and other props found in the over-abundant still-lifes painted during his day hardly ever appear in his work. His inclination was for common, reddish-brown earthenware pots, not imported porcelain bowls. Coorte's pictures are always tiny, his subjects and compositions modest. His typical motifs are a bunch of asparagus, a few peaches, or three medlars with a butterfly on a bare ledge, like in this picture. Nothing more. Objects and light are studied intensely, and are painted with a wondrous tenderness which awakens more feelings about the mystery of our relation to the animate and inanimate world than the better-known show-pieces of the period.

Coorte is an isolated phenomenon. The main line of eighteenth-century Dutch still-life painting is represented by the Amsterdamers Rachel Ruysch and Jan van Huysum, who both specialized in elaborate flower and fruit pictures.




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