Isaak Soreau (1604 - 1644)
Still Life of a Wicker Basket of Fruit on a Wooden Table
Oil on panel
24 x 33 1⁄2 in. (61 x 85 cm.)
Courtesy of Dr. Fred Meijer of the RKD:
Isaak Soreau was born in Hanau, near Frankfurt, the son of Daniel Soreau, a painter, architect and wool merchant, who had emigrated from Tournai to Frankfurt by 1586, in order to avoid religious prosecution. Isaak’s twin brother Peter Soreau (1604-before 1672) became a still-life painter as well. Probably they were both trained by their father, as well as possibly by the still-life painter Sebastian Stosskopf, who had studied under Daniel Soreau and who had taken over his studio after his death in 1619. Until 1626, Isaak is recorded in Hanau. After 1626 his only signs of life would appear to be dated paintings from 1638 and 1645.4 Until a few decades ago, his work was often mistaken for that of his elder brother, Jan Soreau (1591-1626).5 Isaak specialised as a painter of still lifes of fruit and flowers, displayed on table-tops. No other subjects by him are known. Many of his paintings show a strong relationship with works by Jacob van Hulsdonck (Antwerp 1582-1647), some of which he actually copied in great detail. Also, he occasionally adopted motifs from the works of other Antwerp artists, such as Jan Brueghel the Elder. The fact that much of Soreau's work is largely dependent on still lifes by Jacob van Huldonck would appear to infer that the artist spent considerable time in Antwerp in the late 1620s and 1630s, in the vicinity of van Hulsdonck, and may even have worked in his studio. It may even be conjectured that after leaving Hanau, he spent most of his life in Antwerp.6 Even though there appears to be no written document confirming such an Antwerp sojourn, several of Soreau's paintings were executed on Antwerp panels. Hypothetically, paintings produced by Soreau in van Hulsdonck's studio could have been sold as unsigned works by van Hulsdonck himself, their quality approaches that of the master infinitely closely. Not being a guild member, Soreau was not in a position to sell his paintings in Antwerp (under his own name).
The group of works which is now generally accepted as Isaak Soreau's consists of fewer than 60 still lifes. They show him to have been devoted to meticulously detailed rendering of fruit and flowers. His compositions show either a single container with fruit or flowers, or an arrangement of several such containers, usually with some fruit and/or flowers spread around them on the table top. Often he repeated compositions in several versions with small differences, and quite often he rearranged the same objects into a new set-up. It is difficult to establish a firm chronology for Isaak Soreau’s oeuvre, since the artist only dated a few of his paintings, fairly late in his career. While dated works are extremely rare, Soreau also appears not to have made a habit of signing his works.
It is interesting to note that all three of Isaak Soreau’s known dated paintings that are presently known to us are from the same year, 1638, not counting the somewhat dubious still life dated 1645.7 The best known of the three is a still life of a dish of grapes and a bowl of blackberries in the Staatliche Museen in Schwerin (1).8 Of that composition, three further versions are known that are all considered to be autograph works, even though none of them is signed or dated.9 A second signed and dated painting from 1638 shows a bowl of peaches.10 The third still life from 1638 was published by Gerhard Bott in his 2001 oeuvre catalogue of Soreau’s work as indistinctly dated 16?8. The third digit of its date is more likely a 3 than a 2, however.11
The present composition, like several other of Soreau’s still lifes, repeats a signed work by Jacob van Hulsdonck, which was on the art market in 1967 (2).12 Dating Jacob van Hulsdonck’s still lifes is not easy, since the artist left very few dated examples, but the model for Soreau’s painting should probably be dated to the 1620s. It is interesting to note that, like of several of Soreau’s works, a second, equally meticulously painted example is known (3).13 These works by Soreau most probably predate his dated still lifes from 1638, the handling is still closer to that of Jacob van Hulsdonck’s than in those works. Soreau’s tonality is somewhat cooler than Hulsdonck’s, however, particularly in the greens, and his paint layers are slightly more opaque than those of his example.
Isaak Soreau’s still lifes of fruit, like those by Jacob van Hulsdonck, do not appear to bear any specific symbolic content. Contemporary viewers may have regarded them as a praise to God’s creation, and with a little good will, the four elements that make up this creation can be recognised: the fruit for Earth, the dew drops on the leaves for Water, the flying insects for Air and the glass for Fire, as a product of that element.14 Most of all the artist successfully aimed to create the illusion of a three-dimensional arrangement of fruit and flowers by means of pigments and oil on a flat wooden surface.