Adriaen Coorte (Ijzendijke 1659 or later - Vlissingen or Middelburg? 1707), Still life with sea shells, signed and dated lower left: A. Coorte 1696, oil on paper laid down on board, 8 by 5 1/2  in.; 20.5 by 14 cm. Estimate 200,000 — 300,000 USD. Photo Sotheby's

ProvenanceAmerican family collection, before 1990, from whom acquired by the current owner.

NotesCoorte's deceptively simple still lifes depicting fruit, nuts, vegetables and shells, set against a plain dark background, are enormously appealing to the modern eye.  The first catalogue of the Coorte’s work was published in 1952-53 by Laurens Bol, before which the artist was largely unknown.1  That publication and Bol’s subsequent exhibition of twenty-one of Coorte’s paintings at the Dordrechts Museum in 1958, brought the artist back into the public’s consciousness and secured his reputation as one of the most distinctive and original Netherlandish still life painters.2

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.3 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.4  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.5  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.6  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 unpublished example, depict natural objects set on a stone ledge against a dark background.  Quentin Buvelot records six other shell still lifes, each dated between 1696-1698.7 As with his other shell still lifes, Coorte combines a varied assortment which differ quite dramatically in color and shape, thus allowing the artist to put on full display his artistic dexterity. Coorte takes a clinical approach to painting his still life elements, and thus the shells here are easily identifiable. From left to right they are:Lambis lambis, Tonna tessellate, Natica or Nerita (?), Cittarium pica, and Cyphoma gibbosum. Like the paintings themselves, the shells which served as the artist's subjects were objects of great rarity and desirability, which almost universally shipped from abroad by the Dutch East India and West India companies, and would have been collected for a Kunstkammer with a similar fervor to the paintings which depict them.8

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. All of his shell pictures are executed on paper laid down on panel, save for one larger work (location unkown) which he executed directly 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.  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.9  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.10

We are grateful to Fred Meijer and Frits Duparc for endorsing the attribution to Coorte based on first hand inspection, and Quentin Buvelot for similarly endorsing the attribution based on photographs.  

1. L.J. Bol, "Adriaan S. Coorte, stillevenschilder," in Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, vol. 4, 1952-1953
2. Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, Adriaen Coorte: Stillevenschilder, 2 August - 28 September 1958, no. 13;
3. T. de Jong and H.J. Plankeel,Ádriaen Coorte of IJzendijke’, Oud Holland vol. 128 (2015), pp. 55-58. 
4. Q. Buvelot, The still lifes of Adriaen Coorte (active c. 1683-1707) With oeuvre catalogue, The Hague 2008, cat. nos. 2 and 3, both signed and dated 1683, in the collection of Fondation Aetas Aurea and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford respectively.
5.  Ibid., p. 18 and Bol, op.cit., 1977 pp. 4-5 and 31.
6.  Ibid., p. 18, and A. Wheelock, in Small Wonders: Dutch Still Lifes by Adriaen Coorte, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C. 2003, p. 5.
7. Ibid., cat. nos. 21, 22, 31, 32, 34, and 35. 
8. Ibid., p. 50
9.  For a detailed discussion of Coorte’s painting technique, see Ibid. pp. 57-61.
10.  London, Sotheby’s, 5 July 2006, lot 36.

Sotheby's. Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale, New York, 29 janv. 2016, 10:00 AM