This little still-life is a miracle of simplicity. On a stone tabletop, a few strawberries lie in front of a dark background. A stalk is hanging over the edge, and a white flower sticks up out of the fruit. The seeds of the red strawberries are indicated by dots of white paint.
Little is known of Adriaen Coorte except that he probably lived in the city of Middelburg. He was unknown for a long time, until he was rediscovered in the second half of the twentieth century, and his paintings became very popular.
We are completely ignorant about the life of Adriaen Coorte, and even the exact years of his birth and death remain unknown. From his dated paintings, we know that he worked as a painter from 1683-1707, probably in Middelburg. He specialised in still lifes, and an oeuvre of over one hundred paintings has been attributed to him. Certain motives constantly recur in his compositions; again and again, we see a stone ledge or tabletop, on which he might place one type of vegetable or fruit, or a variety of shells, always against the same dark background.
This small painting, which like many of Coorte’s still lifes is painted on paper pasted to a wooden board, in many ways typifies the masterful composition of his works. For instance, the clear, beautifully differentiated illumination, which highlights the strawberries and brings an almost magical quality to the piece, is a hallmark of Coorte’s paintings, as is the small size. Strikingly, only the upper surface of the tabletop is illuminated, and as a result the edge of the table stands out sharply. Coorte has fashioned a subtle composition from this simple collection of objects: the white flower forms a horizontal element among the heaped fruits, while the two strawberries hanging playfully over the edge of the table add a lively touch. To the right of these two strawberries, Coorte placed his signature and the year: 1705. More than any other painter of still lifes, he could take very ordinary subject matter and produce outstanding works.
(this is a reworked version of a text published in in: P. van der Ploeg, Q. Buvelot, Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis: A princely collection, The Hague 2005, p. 113)
Still Life with Wild Strawberries
On view in
Material and technical details
paper on panel
14 x 16.5 cm
Signed and dated
rechtsonder: A. C...... / 1705
Sale London, Sotheby’s, 16 March 1966, lot 89; purchased by Edward Speelman, London; gift of Mrs Edward Speelman, in memory of Mr Edward Speelman, 1995