About This Artwork

Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972

Untitled (Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne), 1957

Box construction
17 5/8 x 12 1/4 x 4 7/16 in.
Signed on back, lower right, on paper label: Joseph Cornell (in artist’s hand) / joseph cornell (typed)

Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection, 1982.1868

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

This box has formal similarities to Yellow Chamber in its use of white panels and in its balance between asymmetry and regularity. It also includes similar components: the bird, the metal springs, the ring, and the metal rod. But the idea of travel is more strongly evoked here, not least through the contrast between the white interior of the box and the tiny, brilliantly colored stamps, which are colorful and exotic in both a metaphoric and literal sense. The contrast between their small scale and the expanse of whiteness also suggests geographic distance. The idea of the box as a surrogate for travel is indeed very present here. Some of the openings in the white lattice at the right contain bingo chips, which conjure ocean voyages where deck games and gambling played a large part in the entertainment provided on board. Other lattice openings contain wood blocks with constellations on a blue background, which similarly recall navigation. The parrot contributes to the exotic atmosphere and introduces an element of tension, as it suggests both the freedom of travel and a bird caged or trapped. A coiled spring curls over the bird’s head to form a target like shape, while the bird itself seems to eye the butterfly and beetles on the stamps as if they might become its lunch.

The names of two hotels are included in this box: the Hotel des Voyageurs in Brest, a port in Brittany, and the Hotel dc la Duchesse-Anne in Nantes. The latter may have appealed to Cornell because of its association with the Surrealists: Andre Breton had spent part of World War I in Nantes, where he met Jacques Vache, whose anarchic humor had a strong influence on him. The name Anne also recalls one of Cornell’s favorite heroines, Thomas De Quincey’s Ann (see Ann—in Memory).

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 85.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, Time, Inc., Art and the Found Object, 1959-60, traveled to Williamstown, Massachusetts; Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; Chicago; Notre Dame, Indiana; Montreal; Poughkeepsie, New York; and Waltham, Massachusetts; no cat.

The University of Chicago, The Bergman Gallery, Avant-Garde Chicago, 1968, no cat. nos., n. pag., as Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Spirit of Surrealism, 1979, no. 106 (ill.) and p. 169.

Publication History

Dore Ashton, A Joseph Cornell Album, 1974, p. 48 (ill.), as Hôtel de la Duchesse Anne.

Brian O’Doherty, American Masters: The Voice and the Myth in Modern Art, New York, 1982, p. 321 (ill.), as Hôtel de la Duchesse-Anne.

“A Record for Service, an Eye for Art: The Bergmans,” University of Chicago Magazine 74, 2 (Winter 1982), pp. 22 (ill.).

The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide, Chicago, 1993, p. 276 (ill.).

Ownership History

Stable Gallery, New York; sold to Lindy and Edwin Bergman, Chicago, 1960; given to the Art Institute, 1982.

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