JOSEPH CORNELL (1903-1972)  Carrousel, 1950

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Lot 3
JOSEPH CORNELL
(1903-1972)
Carrousel, 1950

US$ 60,000 - 80,000
£ 44,000 - 58,000
JOSEPH CORNELL (1903-1972)
Carrousel, 1950
signed, signed with the artist's initials, titled, inscribed and dated 'Joseph Cornell (backwards) Carrousel 1950 J.C., This composition was used as an Xmas card by The Mus. of Mod. Art in 1956.' (on the reverse)
mixed media collage on wood in artist's frame
8 7/8 x 15 7/ x 1in. (22.5 x 40.38 x 2.54cm) framed

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Private Collection (acquired directly from the artist in the 1960s).
    Pavel Zoubok Gallery, New York.
    Acquired from the above by the present owner.

    Exhibited
    New York, Francis M. Naumann Gallery, Manufactured Unreality: The Art of Collage, 16 May-21 June 2008.

    We are grateful to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for confirming that this work was the original composition for the MoMA Christmas card in 1956.

    While he lived most of his life in self-imposed isolation in New York State, in his heart, Cornell was an explorer. His practice quietly explored and pursued the unattainable: Hollywood starlets, the cosmos and the past. Cornell was something of an outsider artist, with no formal training. He had interestingly worked as a commercial illustrator producing magazine covers for Town and Country and House and Garden before his first solo show at the Charles Egan Gallery in 1949. Tender, nostalgic, and transcendent, Cornell created surreal assemblages and shadow boxes by ingeniously pairing seemingly bric-a-brac elements. Heavily inspired by astronomy, he had a particular affinity for celestial maps, as evident in the unique Carrousel (1950).

    Carrousel acts as a harbinger for the artist's important Night Voyage series, inspired by Cornell's intimate relationship with the celestial. On a sojourn to his sister's farm in Westhampton, New York in 1951, Cornell wrote of the "clear skies outside-walked outside & appreciated the beauty and magic of this experience, as on the first nights here-the expansiveness of the heaven, the song of nature throughout the night, the breeze, the fragrance of the grasses-like a great breathing, deep, harmonious, elemental cosmic."1 For Cornell, these were rare moments of sublime, ineffable happiness: lying in bed, gazing at the stars, as if he were in his own private observatory.

    Carrousel depicts the constellation Monoceros, Greek for unicorn, flanked by Canis Major, Latin for dog. The delightfully whimsical pairing cut from a constellation map, either found by the artist or purchased during one of Cornell's frequent visits to vintage bookshops, appears as if the little dog is riding a carousel horse. While the carousel itself dates to the Middle Ages when Knights would practice jousting by throwing balls to one another while galloping in a circle, these training tools were later developed into entertainment mechanisms, rotating with melodic music and painted wooden horses. Carousels were a revolutionary source of entertainment in the Victorian era, and to this day they connote a certain childhood nostalgia, appealing to Cornell's poetic sensibility.

    1. Joseph Cornell papers, 1804-1986, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Microfilm citation 1059/344;3.1/6/9/29 and 1059/352;3.1/6/9/37.
Contacts
JOSEPH CORNELL (1903-1972)  Carrousel, 1950
JOSEPH CORNELL (1903-1972)  Carrousel, 1950
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