Lines and Colors art blog

Three paintings of asparagus

Asparagus, Adriaen Coort, Edouard Manet
In contrast to the elaborate still life arrangements common to his late seventeenth century contemporaries, Dutch painter Adriaen Coort is noted for his simple still life subjects.

His simply staged but striking Still life with Asparagus, depicting a bunch of plump white asparagus on the corner of a table (images above, top, with detail) is perhaps his best known work.

You can see other examples of Coorte painting asparagus in only slightly more elaborate compositions here and here.

Two centuries later, Edouard Manet gives a thoroughly modern but respectful nod to the traditions of he Dutch still life masters, if not Coorte’s painting in particular, in his painting Bunch of Asparagus, showing a similar sized bunch of white asparagus, their bright stalks luminescent against a dark background and painted larger than life size.

The story is that Manet’s parton, Charles Ephrussi, was so pleased with the commissioned painting that he paid the artist 1000 Francs instead of the agreed on 800.

Manet, in response, painted another small canvas, this one quite different in tone and composition — showing a single spear on a marble tabletop, rich with color in its painterly brushstrokes — and sent it to his patron with the message “This one was missing from your bunch.”


12 responses to “Three paintings of asparagus”

  1. Ælle Avatar

    In 2012 for the first time the oldest asparagus seeds were found stashed in a ditch during an archeological research in Haarlem, the Netherlands.
    These seeds have proven that asparagus was not imported in the 17th century.
    Adriaen Coorte is called master of sublime (monumental in Dutch) simplicity.

  2. Another very nice post for me to see Charley. The Coort is a piece of quite power and both his and the Manet (am so impressed with the green leaves as much as anything) really bring to mind, to me, the importance of opposed to becoming overwrought with composition and design. I feel these are teaching pieces for painters as much as they are works that stand alone on their very considerable merit. Thanks for the pics/post!

  3. Brian Harrison Avatar
    Brian Harrison

    Well, art is art, but we grow asparagus, and these would all end up in the reject bin !!
    Fresh cut asparagus spear heads are firm, full and have more colour – purple and green than these insipid examples !
    So, sadly, these paintings would be tossed into the bin as well.

  4. Ælle Avatar

    What makes them white?

    The Purple Passion Asparagus was originally found by accident growing in a tiny, isolated village near the southern Alps, nearly 9 years went into perfecting this all-purple variety. Its spears are larger and more tender than green asparagus.

    1. Yes, these are the plump white asparagus favored in Europe, not the thinner green kind common in the US and elsewhere. I also thought the rendering of asparagus odd in both of these when I first encountered them, particularly Coorte’s painting, until I found out about the different kind of asparagus.

  5. I saw the painting of the single spear of asparagus by Manet at the impressionists show in SF last year. I think that it was the most evocative, beautifully painted piece in the whole exhibit.

    Or almost. There were a few Van Gogh’s that I liked as well..ahem..

  6. Susanne E. Avatar
    Susanne E.

    There’s nothing better than white esparagus with a nice, rich sauce hollandaise. It would be in season right now but this year everything is several weeks behind due to unusually cold and rainy spring in Europe (only 3 years have had less sunshine in spring since beginning of records!). Probalbly prices for esparagus will be high this year, and for strawberries too!

    The painting by Coorte is beautiful. He seems to have painted different versions, one on which is in the National Gallery in Washington.

    I wonder about the red currant berries in the NGA painting, I think they are later in the year than esparagus so he could not have painted both from life at the same time.

  7. Susanne E. Avatar
    Susanne E.

    Comparing the Coorte esparagus paintings, I found it interesting to see that they are painted on different supports: the Rijksmuseum version is painted on paper mounted on panel (if i interpret correctely), whereas the National Gallery Version is painted on canvas. I am surprised how similar both surfaces look, very smooth on both paintings. Isn’t it great that some museums offer such high quality images that it is possible to make such comparisons!

    1. Thanks for the comments, Susanne. Yes. I love the increasing availability of high resolution art images on the web. It’s a boon to art lovers and artists alike.

  8. Ælle Avatar

    Why was the oil painting of Chimp with asparagus by T. Isaac not sold? I wonder.

  9. Susanne E. Avatar
    Susanne E.

    I had to kill some time today in Heidelberg/Germany and went to their small local museum. Unexectedly I found fine small collection there of Dutch 17th century paintings. And there it was: another A.Coorte Asparagus bunch! Approx. same size and exact same signature as the Rijksmuseum version. Immediately I thought of this article in your blog that had introduced me to the artist just a few weeks ago!

    This is the Heidelberg version:

    1. Wonderful! Thanks, Susanne.