Untitled (Butterfly Habitat)

Frosted glass box with six compartments for yellow, green, blue butterflies
Art © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

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  • Frosted glass box with six compartments for yellow, green, blue butterflies

Date:

c. 1940

Artist:

Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972

About this artwork

For approximately thirty years, Joseph Cornell worked in relative obscurity in the basement of his home in Queens, New York, creating a multitude of wondrous miniature worlds within his boxed constructions. Poetic mélanges of found objects and materials, his deeply personal and elusive work (which also includes many collages on paper) combines the enthusiasms of his childhood—butterflies, marbles, seashells, sky charts, stamps—with adult fascinations such as ballerinas, empty cages, and movie stars. Cornell’s boxes often prompt a dizzying series of associations; in Untitled (Butterfly Habitat), these include Christmas decorations, collector’s cabinets for specimens, microscopes, natural history displays, sailor’s boxes, and windows. Some of these references are contradictory, reinforcing the work’s ambiguity. Ideas linked to flight, voyages, and the exotic are countered by the rigid and symmetrical organization of the display. The butterflies are not, however, pinned as they would be on a specimen board. Each pane of paint-spattered glass encloses a small compartment with white wood walls in which a cutout of a paper butterfly is suspended with string, allowing for some movement as the box is handled.

On View

Modern Art, Gallery 397

Artist

Joseph Cornell

Title

Untitled (Butterfly Habitat)

Origin

United States

Date

1935–1945

Medium

Box construction with painted glass

Inscriptions

Signed and dated on back, lower center, on paper label: Joseph Cornell (typed) / Joseph Cornell (in artist’s hand) / ca. 1940 (typed)

Dimensions

12 × 9 1/8 × 3 1/8 in.

Credit Line

Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection

Reference Number

1982.1845

Copyright

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

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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