Joseph Cornell

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  • Provenance

    Jane Corkin Gallery, Toronto

  • Literature

    Haworth-Booth, The Art of Lee Miller, pl. 84 for a variant

  • Catalogue Essay

    When the famed New York dealer Julien Levy first opened his eponymous gallery in 1927, he quickly became a champion of Lee Miller’s photographs, exhibiting her work alongside the masters of Surrealist art including her mentor Man Ray, László Moholy-Nagy and Joseph Cornell. Upon their introduction, Cornell and Miller took a strong liking to one another and their mutual affinity found its way into their art- she as a source of inspiration for his objects and he as a subject for her photographs. In Joseph Cornell, 1933, Miller photographed the artist with one of his celebrated objects- a toy yacht with a butterfly positioned at the top of the mast and a sail that subtly transforms into a flowing mane of blonde hair. The theme of navigation, as exemplified by the yacht, was an important one throughout Cornell’s work, tying into the Surrealist notion of transcendence, travelling beyond the limitations of one’s imagination and subconscious. While the construction of the toy yacht most likely preceded his introduction to Miller, that he would choose this as the object with which he is photographed, one with such feminine detail, may been seen as an homage to Miller and her past as a model and fashion photographer.

    There are a few variants of this image that Miller is known to have printed. One shows Cornell in profile with the tousled mane of the sailboat appearing to fall from his head; a second, similar to the first, but shot from adifferent perspective; and a third, cropped version that we see in the present lot. Here, Cornell’s hovered position, the carefully positioned light on his head and the darker shadows against his torso give the image a much more ominous tone than the two variants. Reminiscent of Miller’s Floating Head (Mary Taylor), also from 1933, here we see Miller’s evolution towards an increasingly Surrealist approach to photography.



Joseph Cornell

Gelatin silver print.
7 3/8 x 9 1/4 in. (18.7 x 23.5 cm).
Credit stamp on the verso.

$70,000 - 90,000 

The Arc of Photography...

4 October 2011 6PM
New York