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Untitled (Hôtel du Nord)

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

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  • A work made of box construction with painted glass.


c. 1950


Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972

About this artwork

This box shares motifs and clippings with several other boxes bearing the title Hotel du Nord (see, for example, Hotel du Nord, c. 1953, New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Ashton 1974, p. 92, ill.). This was the name of a hotel in Copenhagen, in which the Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, one of Cornell‘s favorite authors, often stayed; it was also the title of a 1938 film by Marcel Carne starring Arletty (pseud. for Leonie Bathiat). “From the moment she stood on the bridge over the Canal St.-Martin in the 1938… classic Hotel du Nord, Arletty entered film history,” reads her obituary; “her testy reply to her violent, wayward lover, ‘Atmosphere, atmosphere … “ indeed became one of the most memorable moments in French film“ (“ Obituaries,” New York Times, July 25,1992). This moment is one that could well have endeared the film to Cornell.

The fact that the upper and lower edges of the rear wall, as well as the ceiling, are painted a deep blue, and the nature of the printed reproductions, hint at celestial or astronomical associations, which are more explicit in the box known as Hotel de l’Etoile. At the top left are three printed images of a boar, a ram, and a bear (the first concealed in this photograph by the white dowel in the foreground). Vertically, on the right, are a griffin, a horse, and a camel. All six of these animal images are reproductions of drawings in a late fourteenth century sketchbook (Oxford, Magdalene College; see Colin Eisler, Dürer”s Animals, Washington, D.C., 1991, p. 9, figs. 1.7–8). Cornell may have intended these animals to allude to constellations. They were no doubt just some of the many images of animals he collected from natural history albums, astronomical charts, and endpapers. Cornell wrote to Marianne Moore in a letter decorated with collaged etchings of animals, birds, and plants: “Could one call the spirit that animates the animals in the end-paper snips ‘gargoylesque lyricism‘?” (Cornell 1993, p. 123).

The image of the boy is Albrecht Durer’s Self Portrait (1484, silverpoint, Vienna, Graphische Sammlung Albertina; see Walter L. Strauss, The Complete Drawings of Albrecht Durer, vol. 1, New York, 1974, pp. 4–5, ill.). Durer was an important figure to Cornell, both as artist and astronomer. According to Catherine Tennant, “It is to no less an artist than Durer, who published two star maps in the sixteenth century, which were copied in one form or another in all the star atlases which came after, that we owe the Western vision of the constellations” (Box of the Stars, London, 1993, p. 4).

A French postage stamp of Jean Hey’s painting Suzanne de Bourbon in Prayer (1492/93, Paris, Musée du Louvre; see Philippe Lorentz and Annie Regond, Jean Hey: Le Maitre de Moulins, 1990, exh. cat., pp. 44–45, ill.) is pasted onto a cylindrical wood weight, suspended from a rod by a metal hook. The same image, enlarged, appears in the box Ann—in Memory.

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p.64-65.

On View

Modern Art, Gallery 397


Joseph Cornell


Untitled (Hôtel du Nord)


United States




Box construction with painted glass


Signed on back, lower center, on paper label: Joseph Cornell


18 1/2 × 12 3/8 × 4 3/8 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.


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