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

Untitled (Blue Sand Box)

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

Image actions

  • A work made of box construction.


early 1950s


Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972

About this artwork

This box is, like others of its type, designed to be handled; the sand, the metal ring, and the ball scattering into different formations like iron filings or a kaleidoscope. The inside of the box is painted white on all sides; a fine network of cracks suggests that it was artificially aged. As noted in the above media description, sixteen faint lines are etched into the bottom (or rear wall) of the box, radiating from a common center, and resulting in raised lines of white paint on either side of the incisions. An oval form was etched, using the same technique, in the upper right corner. The blue sand forms patterns when shaken that are determined by the raised lines. The three different mobile elements—ring, ball, and sand—make very different sounds as the box is shaken.

Cornell mentioned “sand boxes” as early as 1945 in his diary jottings. Significantly, in an entry of October 8, 1945, he referred to two different kinds of objects that are possible sources for these boxes: the “sailor’s box” and the “sand box as discovered in shop—birdhouse that might have [been] tended by her hands” (Cornell 1993, pp. 125–26). It is not entirely evident what he meant by the latter, but the link with the “birdhouse” suggests the sand tray that is customarily placed on the bottom of a bird‘s cage. The sailor’s box was an object of deep resonance for Cornell, with its references to voyages, exotic birds and butterflies, navigation, and treasured keepsakes in general. In a diary note of April 4, 1943, Cornell described an “Exhibition of miscellaneous objects found in trunks of sailors… shells, toy snake, wales [sic] tooth, beads (exotic), a butterfly box” (Cornell Papers, AAA, reel 1058; originally cited in New York 1980–82, pp. 33–34). The Sand Boxes are perhaps like some such treasure salvaged from the bottom of the sea.

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p. 78-79.


On View, Gallery 397


Modern Art


Joseph Cornell


Untitled (Blue Sand Box)


United States (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Box construction


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


4.8 × 38.3 × 23.5 cm (1 7/8 × 15 1/16 × 9 1/4 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