Adriaen Coorte still life
‘Still Life with a Bowl of Strawberries, a Spray of Gooseberries, Asparagus and a Plum’ by Adriaen Coorte. An oil on paper on canvas from 1703, it was part of the bequest from the collection of Willem Baron van Dedem to the National Gallery. Image copyright: The National Gallery, London.

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The Dutch and Flemish paintings were deliberately chosen to fill gaps in the gallery’s collection. They include a still life by Adriaen Coorte (c.1665-1710) from 1703 which will be the first work by the artist to enter the institution’s holdings.

Only four other works by Coorte, a once-obscure Middelburg artist whose name has risen both academically and commercially in the last decade, are currently held in UK public collections.

The other pictures in the bequest are Christ crowned with Thorns by David Teniers the Younger (1641) and two botanical studies of insects and plants by Jan van Kessel the Elder (both 1654).

Longstanding collector

Baron van Dedem was the great-nephew of the Dutch shipping magnate Daniel George van Beuningen, whose large collection of Old Master and 19th-century paintings, decorative art, and works on paper was given to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam after he died in 1955.

Baron van Dedem, who died in 2015 at the age of 86, launched a successful transport business and began collecting himself in the 1960s, continuing to buy for over 50 years.

Living in London at Trumpeter’s House in Richmond, he ultimately acquired about 80 works, mostly 16th and 17th Northern European paintings.

With a reputation for his connoisseurial eye and knowledge of Old Masters, he became president of TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) in 1997, a post in which remained for 15 years. He was described by the TEFAF board as “one of the fair’s most loyal and faithful torchbearers”.

In addition to the gifts to the National Gallery, he also made generous bequests to the Mauritshuis in The Hague and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Baron van Dedem’s still life by Coorte was described as one of the artist’s “most ambitious compositions”. The small but superbly crafted  36 x 43cm oil on paper (laid down on canvas) stands as an important addition to the National Gallery’s holdings of still life painting from the late 17th and early 18th century – the understated composition offering a contrast to the lavish abundance of works by the likes of Willem Kalf or Jan van Huysum.

Another Flemish painter not represented in the National Gallery until the current bequest, Jan van Kessel the Elder (1626-1679) specialised in small-scale but highly detailed paintings on panel or copper predominantly of flowers, insects and animals, both living and dead.

The two works from the Baron van Dedem are both oils on wood dating from 1654 and depict butterflies, moths and insects with foliage, making them typical examples that demonstrate not just van Kessel botanical and topographical knowledge but also the wider fascination with the natural world in 17th-century.

David Teniers 'Christ Crowned with Thorns'

‘Butterflies, Moths and Insects with Sprays of Common Hawthorn and Forget-Me-Not’, one of two works by Jan van Kessel the Elder that are part of the bequest to the National Gallery from the collection of Willem Baron van Dedem. Image copyright: The National Gallery, London.

The final work in the Baron van Dedem bequest is Christ Crowned with Thorns by David Teniers the Younger, an artist who specialised in everyday scenes but made only a handful of religious works throughout his long career.

The well preserved oil on copper, measuring 57 x 77cm, is the first of these religious paintings to enter the National Gallery’s collection.