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Yellow Chamber

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

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  • A work made of box construction.




Joseph Cornell
American, 1903–1972

About this artwork

Yellow chamber is one of the most intricate of the boxes Cornell constructed with mirrors. The white interior, with its beading and planks of wood, appears at first sight to be deserted, as does that of another box of these years, Toward the “Blue Peninsula” (1951–52, Geneva, Daniel Varenne; New York 1980–82, pl. XXVII), However, whereas the blue sky, the open cage, and the single bird‘s feather in that evocative box signal escape, in Yellow Chamber the birds are hidden or trapped, visible only in a series of mirror reflections.

The “chamber” of the title reinforces the ambiguity of the interior space, which has strong associations with both architecture and a bird’s cage. It suggests both enforced enclosure—the locked chambers of fairy tales and hotel rooms (chambres). The unusual presence of two parakeets hints at a “ double room.” The spatial games Cornell played with mirrors here indeed evoke a double room with in the restricted area of the box. The title, Yellow Chamber; seems to refer to the yellow wall visible through the holes in the white wooden plank to the right (not visible in this photograph), and also hints at a particular, but unknown, story or history. The formal effect of the mirroring is to give the box an asymmetrical, rectilinear geometry, lightened and balanced by the circular elements (ring, holes, beads, springs).

— Entry, Dawn Ades, Surrealist Art: The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, 1997, p.66-67.


On View, Gallery 397


Modern Art


Joseph Cornell


Yellow Chamber


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


Titled, dated, signed, and inscribed on back on four paper labels: Directions for care of box inside top cover (typed and photostated, “directions” not found) / YELLOW CHAMBER / 1950-1951. (typed) / Joseph Cornell (in the artist’s hand) / KEEP GLASS CLEAN (typed and photostated)


45.1 × 31.2 × 11.5 cm (17 3/4 × 12 1/4 × 4 1/2 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

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