The National Gallery of Art acquired its second still-life painting by Frans Snyders (1579–1657), one of the most accomplished Flemish painters of the seventeenth century. The painting was generously donated by Donna Pflieger.
Offering a masterful compilation of flowers, birds, and grapes, Still Life with Flowers, Grapes, and Small Game Birds (ca. 1615) is an early example of the modestly scaled and beautifully detailed still lifes Snyders executed throughout his career. Finches, robins, and other dead birds are piled in the foreground, while a gleaming gold tazza overflows with plump grapes and delicately twisting vines. A colorful array of tulips, roses, and other blossoms emerging from a glass vase demonstrates the artist’s wide-ranging understanding of the natural world.
In addition to the still life by Snyders, the Gallery also acquired a still life by Adriaen Coorte. Still Life with a Hanging Bunch of Grapes, Two Medlars, and a Butterfly (1687), a particularly striking work by the artist, is one of only three known compositions in which the dominant element is suspended in midair before a dark background. This is the second painting by Coorte to enter the Gallery’s collection. A later work, Still Life with Asparagus and Red Currants (1696), was acquired in 2002.
In this painting Coorte celebrates the bounty of autumnal fruits with a combination of grapes and medlars. The plump, juicy grapes dangling from a cord demonstrate a masterful use of light and shadow to render spherical objects, which is contrasted with thin, sharp highlights that describe the crisp, crinkled texture of the attached leaf. One of the painting’s most striking elements is the wiry, calligraphic grapevine silhouetted against the background, which seems to form a two-dimensional cage for the blue Polyommatus icarus hovering weightless in midair. Other tiny insects navigate the grapes and the stone ledge in the foreground of the painting. In the soft shadows of the ledge are two medlars, a popular fruit in the medieval and early modern periods. Medlars are picked with the fall’s frost but become edible only after they ripen off the tree, rendering the flesh soft and sweet. In Coorte’s time, they were one of the few fruits that could be eaten fresh in the winter.