Details & Cataloguing

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

New York

Joseph Cornell
1903 - 1972
signed on the reverse
box construction: wood, paper collage, glass and metal
13 x 9 1/4 x 4 1/4 in. 33 x 23.5 x 10.8 cm.
Executed circa 1953.
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Estate of the Artist
Castelli-Feigen-Corcoran Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Edward R. Hudson, Jr., Fort Worth, Texas
Sotheby's, New York, May 3, 1993, Lot 4
Acquired by the present owner from the above


New York, The Museum of Modern Art; London, Whitechapel Art Gallery; Düsseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf; Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, Sala d'Arme; Paris, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Joseph Cornell, November 1980 - March 1982, cat. no. 134, p. 198, illustrated (New York); cat. no. 134, p. 23, not illustrated (Düsseldorf); cat. no. 54, p. 74, illustrated (Florence and Paris)
Aspen, Aspen Art Museum, Alexis Smith/Joseph Cornell: Parallels, 1987, illustrated in color (on the exhibition announcement)
Fort Worth, Museum of Modern Art, 100th Anniversary Exhibition of Master Works from Fort Worth Collections, April - June 1992

Catalogue Note

Untitled (Palais de Cristal) from circa 1953 is a captivating and magical habitat, filled with images and objects collected by the enigmatic Joseph Cornell in his wanderings around New York City, and later rearranged into unique tableaux in his studio at home in Utopia Parkway, Queens. With its brilliantly hued parakeet set amidst a white-washed background punctuated with a dazzling spray of orange pigment, Untitled (Palais de Cristal) offers Cornell’s poetic alternative to the heroic painterly abstractions of post-war art. In the present work, Cornell unveiled a seductive glimpse into the subtle and mysterious imagery at play in his inner world. An amateur naturalist, Cornell used nature as a conduit to the human psyche, drawing private associations and novel juxtapositions that reveal the mind’s fantasies and fears. The inclusion of birds and other small creatures in his boxes are referents to the symbolism of Surrealist iconography that influenced his earliest works of the 1930s and 1940s. As eloquently embodied in the present work, Cornell’s parakeets, cockatoos, and parrots were a common and sumptuous motif traditionally associated with heaven and freedom.

In December 1949, the Charles Egan Gallery presented Cornell’s first show devoted to the box constructions for which he is so renowned. Titled Aviary, the show consisted of twenty-six bird-dwelling boxes and inaugurated his departure away from the Victoriana and Surrealism of his earlier work toward a more streamlined modernity. In spite of the seeming randomness implied by Cornell’s use of collaged images and material, he produced compositions with great exactitude, pre-determining colors and content to suit an internal narrative much like characters in a theatrical performance. Cornell’s imagery, composed of ordinary objects gathered in bookstores and thrift stores, and inspired by the dioramas in New York’s Museum of Natural History, conveyed a view of nature as a masterly designed environment. Untitled (Palais de Cristal) is an intellectualized version of lyrical beauty, an exact depiction of an unnatural habitat wherein bird, metal spiral, and printed matter all comply with the demands of artistic vision.

Contemporary Art Evening Auction

New York