Skip to Content
Closed today, next open Thursday. Closed today, next open Thursday.

Untitled (Crystal Cage)

A work made of box construction with painted glass.
© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

Image actions

  • A work made of box construction with painted glass.


c. 1953


Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972

About this artwork

The grid of this austere box is compellingly architectural, as is often the case with Cornell‘s boxes of the 1950s (see, for example, Dovecote). The interior is painted white and cracked as if with age, and the rear wall is entirely covered with a mirror. The effect of the reflections in the mirror behind is to suggest a scale and depth greater than in actuality. The torn remnants of painted paper around the edges of the twenty compartments resemble the white paint applied to new shop windows, or even the frosting of shop windows at Christmas. This casual or decorative effect contrasts with the geometric complexity of the box. The rather elegant frame, which has miter joints instead of the butt joints of many other boxes, also works against the miniature architectural effect, enclosing it like a picture.

In spite of the similarity in structure with Nouveaux Contes de fees, there is no suggestion here of stacks or shelves to house and order things; whereas that box suggests a wealth of treasures within, hidden from sight, this is bleak and empty. The mirror, however, reflects the viewer, and recalls Cornell‘s fascination with the ambiguity of shop windows, which reflect the window gazer and confuse inside and out side.

The letters WiNd, followed by a period, are roughly lettered on the inner side of the glass. They recall the use of lettering in Georges Braque’s and Pablo Picasso‘s Cubist paintings, which simultaneously emphasized the work’s surface and gave an often ambiguous clue to its subject. As in Cubist lettering, where journal was often shortened to jour, this word could be a truncated allusion to “window,” as well as a reference to the “wind” blowing outside.

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 70.


On View, Gallery 397


Modern Art


Joseph Cornell


Untitled (Crystal Cage)


United States (Artist's nationality)




Box construction with painted glass


Inscribed, upper center, on inside of glass front: WiNd Signed on back, lower center, on paper label: Joseph Cornell


48.6 × 28 × 10.5 cm (19 1/8 × 11 × 4 1/8 in.)

Credit Line

Lindy and Edwin Bergman Joseph Cornell Collection

Reference Number



© The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York

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 . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions