Artist biography

Joseph Cornell 1903-1972

American artist. Born in Nyack, New York, but moved in 1929 to Flushing, New York, where he spent the rest of his life more or less as a recluse. As a young man worked as a textile salesman. Began to make montages of engravings in 1929, without any art training; these were included in the first Surrealist group exhibition in the USA at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, in 1935. Met many of the leading Surrealist artists and writers at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, and started so make glazed boxes containing mysterious assemblages of objects in poetic association. His work included in the exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1936. First one-man exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery 1939. Made recurrent use of objects such as clay pipes, wineglasses, engravings, mirrors and astronomical maps, often with a flavour of Victoriana and some allusion to the opera or the ballet; his imagery was often related to that of Nerval, Novalis, Mallarmé and other 19th century Romantic and Symbolist writers. Also made a number of short lyrical films and a montage of old Hollywood film clips, Rose Hobart. Died in Flushing.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.132-3