Baron Robert Gendebien (1885-1954);
Thence by decent to the present owners.
The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's:
This painting, unusually on canvas rather than panel, has a very old stretcher and lining, which seems to be comparatively stable. There is a fairly marked craquelure, without any noticeable stretcher bar line suggesting early lining perhaps.
The craquelure is calmer and less marked in the lower half of the painting, which also remains the most finely preserved. The detail within the still life is remarkably pure and intact, as are the fine definitions of light and shade, for example in the transition of the cast shadow of the ledge onto the lighter area below with the artist's signature. The delicacy of the leaves curving into shadow and the minutiae of the description of the gooseberries for instance are also equally intact and unworn, as is the still life almost throughout. The butterfly above is well preserved, however the dark upper background itself has been more vulnerable and there are old retouchings in various places including at the upper centre with another smaller patch of retouching at lower centre. On either side there have been fragile vertical lines of slightly raised flakes and other old flaking. A narrow line of retouching appears under ultra violet light to curve round the branch of gooseberries at mid left, but essentially the lower half of the painting has remained beautifully complete, secure and intact.
This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
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Coorte's earlier works are, like this one, on canvas. Although he continued to paint on canvas from time to time, the majority of his later works are on paper, often glued at an early date to a panel backing. They are frequently small rectangular compositions like the present work, with objects arranged on a stone ledge. The composition of this work however recalls the lower central part of a still life of 1685 in the Teresa Heinz collection, which is also composed of, running from left to right, sprigs of gooseberries, a terracotta bowl of wild strawberries, a bundle of asparagus and a sprig of redcurrants.1
The Heinz composition is however an upright one, with the subject matter set in an arched stone niche with a spray of hops suspended from its apex. The present picture, which appears to be cut at the sides and top, is thus likely to have started life as a similarly composed upright composition. Coorte revisited this composional type later on in his career, for example in the canvas dated 1703 in the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp.2
Coorte often painted butterflies in his still lifes, but the small blue example seen here (it is not possible to be sure which species of blue butterfly it is but it may be the Adonis Blue, a littoral species found in Zeeland) occurs in only one other, a work on canvas dated 1687 in an English private collection.3 Although we call the fruit on the earthenware pot "wild" strawberries (Fragaria vesca), they were in Coorte's day the standard type under cultivation. They, green asparagus, gooseberries and redcurrants are all ready for eating at the same time of year in mid-summer; unlike his contemporaries who painted fruit and flower still lifes, Coorte did not depict produce that was ripe or in bloom at different times of the year. Middelburg, where he lived, was famous in his day for its nurseries which were planted in the rich alluvial soil on which the city rests.
1. See Q. Buvelot, The still lifes of Adriaen Coorte, exhibition catalogue, Zwolle 2008, pp. 32, 84-6, no. 4, reproduced in colour p. 44, fig. 33, and p. 85.
2. Idem, p. 110, no. 49, reproduced in colour p. 111.
3. Idem, p. 88, no. 9, reproduced in colour p. 36, fig. 25, & p. 37.