Joseph Cornell Untitled (Bird Box) About 1948 © The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation. All rights reserved. Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York and DACS, London 2023


Born 1903
Died 1972
Nationality American
Birth place Nyack
Death place Flushing

Cornell was born in Nyack, New York. He never went to art school, but led a quiet life at the family home in New York State. In 1931 he saw an exhibition of Max Ernst's collages and he soon began making his own collages and small assemblages. By the mid-1930s, Cornell was making constructions in wooden boxes, similar to the 'object-sculptures' made by the Surrealists. Cornell was a passionate collector of books, engravings and items of historical interest. His work contains constant references to the past in the form of toys, and old scrap-book images, conjuring up an enigmatic, slightly sinister vision of childhood.

Glossary terms

Glossary terms


Works of art constructed from pre-existing materials as opposed to work that is drawn, painted or carved. A broad term, invented by French artist Jean Dubuffet in the 1950s, it includes collage, sculptural objects and installation art.