Joseph Cornell

American, 1903-1972

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Joseph Cornell was an American artist best remembered for his distinctive assemblage works housed in shallow wooden shadow boxes. A self-taught artist, Cornell's works incorporate found objects arranged in narrative dioramas, featuring a variety of Victorian-era dolls, photographs, bottles, and other small trinkets. These inventive tableauxs are characterized by their dream-like imagery and interest in childhood memories, as evidenced in his piece Tilly-Losch (c. 1935), which depicts a young girl in an elaborate dress suspended by strings over a rocky mountain landscape. Salvador Dalí himself once quipped that Cornell’s work was “the only truly Surrealist work to be found in America.” Cornell was heavily influenced by the work of artists such as Max Ernst and René Magritte, and would go on in turn to inspire early Pop artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Born on December 24, 1903 in Nyack, NY, he lived his entire life in the New York metropolitan area. Though Cornell did have some opportunities to exhibit his art during his lifetime, he often struggled financially, as the artist was dedicated to caring for his younger brother, Robert, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Cornell died in his home borough of Queens, NY on December 29, 1972 at the age of 69.