On Display: QAG, Gallery 9
In Still life c.1650, we see luscious peaches, pomegranates, plums, grapes and lemons spilling out from a bowl set within a dark landscape. Typical of the seventeenth-century Flemish tradition, a style which was extremely popular with middle- and upper-class patrons, this ripe arrangement conveys an image of prosperity, fertility and abundance.
The viewer is drawn to Coosemans’s work through the textures of the fruit, subtleties of light and colour, and the masterful rendering of detail. The pitted texture of the lemon rind with its peel suspended in an illusionistic envelope of space, the translucent, luminous hues of the grapes and the soft velvety sheen of the peaches combine to produce an overwhelming effect of naturalism.
The inclusion of the raffia bottle and the Italianate landscape in the background lends the work a slightly exotic atmosphere, reminding us that the growing interest in and depiction of exotic flora were the result of sea voyages and trade with the East and Mediterranean.
A painter of still lifes, Alexander Coosemans was born in Antwerp in 1627. In 1641, he was a pupil of Jan Davidsz de Heem (to whom this work was formerly attributed), a leading exponent of still-life painting in the seventeenth century.
In the Netherlands, painters and craftspeople were considered artisans and guilds were established to represent and protect their collective interests. A master and apprentice system encouraged the training of artisans by example and practice.
Coosemans was acknowledged by the Guild of St Luke as a master painter in 1645, at the age of only 18, due to the exceptionally high degree of finish in his work. The Guild of St Luke was a guild of painters and artisans based in Antwerp.