Joseph Cornell b. 1903, Nyack, New York; d. 1972, New York City
Gelatin silver print, mounted on panel
10 x 8 inches (25.4 x 20.3cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York Gift, Tom and Remi Messer, 2003
Art The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Female performers were a favorite subject for Joseph Cornell. In addition to Hollywood starlets such as Lauren Bacall and Greta Garbo, Cornell was infatuated with Victorian-era ballerinas, actresses, and opera divas. Pairing the obsessive voyeurism of a fan with the skill of an archivist, Cornell collected photographs, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia, as well as small objects with real or invented histories, and accumulated them in files and boxes in his basement studio. These artifacts became source material for Cornell’s signature three-dimensional box-constructions and collages, such as Duse, which features Italian stage actress Eleonora Duse. Cornell had been fascinated with her since seeing her perform in an Ibsen play in the early 1920s. This collage is one of two nearly identical works entering the collection that employ the same 19th-century photograph, which the artist mounted on board and most likely manipulated to add to its aged appearance. In the second collage, Cornell applied pink watercolor, suggestive of lipstick, to the edges of the image, adding to its poignancy as a record of his nostalgic and deeply romantic longing for the unattainable.