About This Artwork

Joseph Cornell
American, 1903-1972

Untitled (Satie and Ravel), March 14, 1968–early September 1969

Collage composed of cut and pasted, commercially printed papers, with graphite, on cardboard
300 x 223 mm

Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection, 1982.1871

Art © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Cornell used photosets of a 1927 drawing by his beloved brother Robert in this and several other collages. Here he combined it with a reproduction of a note by Satie about Ravel who, Satie wrote, “assures me every time that I meet him, that he owes me a lot.” Robert, who suffered from a form of cerebral palsy, had died in 1965 at the age of fifty-four. A memorial exhibition of drawings by Robert and collages by Joseph had been held at Robert Schoelkopfs New York gallery in 1966. There is no reason to doubt the dates noted on the frame of the collage: Cornell refers on many occasions during this period to his brother Robert’s drawing of a rabbit, and also to Satie and Ravel. In February and March, when this collage was presumably begun, Cornell described its powerful emotional associations, linking it to music: “what seemed elusive, lost earlier—the way that Robert’s drawing ... brought about this lovely business—bringing to life, bringing together Chabrier, S. Saens, Mme Manet (and by implication, Debussy) via the original drawing” (Cornell 1993, p. 390; entry for Feb. 23, 1968); in March he mentioned again “Carolyn‘s ‘Ravel Rabbit‘ par excellence Robert’s ‘Rabbit’” (Cornell 1993, p. 391; entry for March 10, 1968).

Ravel was much in Cornell‘s mind at the time, perhaps partly because of an anecdote he mentioned in his diary: after the death of his mother, Ravel never returned to the apartment they had shared at 4, avenue Carnot. Cornell’s mother had died a year after Robert, in 1966, and his diary reveals how painful this double loss was. He addressed notes to his mother and on occasion heard Robert’s voice in the house. But he had by no means lost his avid curiosity and continued to work. Cornell had often worked listening to music—an important element in the complex associations he sought to instill in his boxes and collages. He became more reflective about his own working procedures toward the end of his life, commenting on the working procedures of artists and musicians he admired: “A musing: Erik Satie’s ‘hysterical’ obsessions with putting things to music. Ravel anecdote about Satie even wanting to put a menu to music” (Cornell 1993, p. 416).

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 94-95.

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