The details of Coorte’s life are largely unknown; even the years of his birth and death remain a mystery, though he is thought to have been a native of Middelburg in Zeeland. Dated paintings by the artist range from the years 1683-1705. 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.1 Bol’s research revealed that between 1700 and 1900, 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.2 In addition, in a written record from the yearbooks for 1695-96 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 curious that he would not have been a member of the painters guild. From this, some scholars have deduced that, perhaps, Coorte was a gentleman painter or amateur.3 Certainly, in his mature style, he does not show the marked influence of other artists, and the restraint and simplicity of his compositions is at odds with the more opulent still life paintings that were the prevailing fashion of the time.
Today, Coorte’s known oeuvre consists of about sixty-four paintings. Many of his compositions, like the present one, depict natural objects set on a stone ledge against a dark background. One of his favorite subjects was wild strawberries (fragaria vesca) which he included in no less than eighteen paintings. Sometimes they were combined with other fruits and vegetables, such as gooseberries and asparagus. In other paintings they are the central focus, most often depicted in a small earthenware bowl and, more infrequently, in a blue and white Wan-Li porcelain bowl. Only three paintings, including the present one, depict the strawberries uncontained and casually piled on the corner of a stone ledge.4 The other two, one dated 1700 (whereabouts unkown) and the other dated 1705 (Mauritshuis, The Hague) depict the ledge and berries in the opposite direction, and the Mauritshuis picture is upright rather than horizontal. In the Weldon painting, the vibrant red of the tiny berries is varied with greenish yellow patches on some of the fruit, and their stippled texture has been meticulously rendered. Two of the berries still have their stems attached, while a single white blossom springs up at right. The composition is intensely focused and intimate. A few of the strawberries are balanced so precariously close to the edge that one can imagine they might tumble off at any moment.
From the mid-1690s onward, many of Coorte’s works were painted on paper laid down on panel, such as this painting, or laid down on canvas. A technique that was highly unusual in the 17th and 18th centuries, it seems to have been Coorte’s preferred working method. It is possible that he drew his design first on paper and then worked in oils on top of this. Whether the paper was affixed to the panel or canvas by Coorte himself or, perhaps, by someone else after his death to make the paintings more marketable has been debated.5 Interestingly, Coorte is known to have re-used paper that had already been written on. During restoration, a painting sold at Sotheby’s, London in 2006 was removed from its panel support and was discovered to have been painted over a page from a merchant’s account book from the early 1600s.6
1. See Buvelot, under Literature, cat. nos. 2 and 3, both signed and dated 1683, in the collection of Fondation Aetas Aurea and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford respectively.
2. Ibid., p. 18 and Bol, op.cit., 1977 pp. 4-5 and 31.
3. Ibid., p. 18, and A. Wheelock, op.cit., p. 5.
4. Ibid.; cat. nos. 44 (dated 1700) and 60 (dated 1705).
5. For a detailed discussion of Coorte’s painting technique, see Ibid. pp. 57-61.
6. London, Sotheby’s, 5 July 2006, lot 36.
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