Joseph Cornell. Taglioni's Jewel Casket. 1940

Joseph Cornell Taglioni's Jewel Casket 1940

  • Not on view

The first of dozens Cornell made in honor of famous ballerinas, this box pays homage to Marie Taglioni, an acclaimed nineteenth-century Italian dancer who, according to legend, kept an imitation ice cube in her jewelry box to commemorate dancing in the snow at the behest of a Russian highwayman. The box is infused with erotic undertones—both in the tactile nature of the glass cubes, velvet, and rhinestone necklace (purchased at a Woolworth's dime store in New York) and in the incident itself, in which Taglioni reportedly performed on an animal skin placed across the snowy road.

Although he spent his entire artistic career living and working in Queens, New York, Cornell drew inspiration from the European art he saw at the Julien Levy Gallery—the first in the United States to exhibit Surrealist work—and often inspired the European Surrealists in turn. In a press release for a 1939 show by Cornell at the Levy Gallery, Salvador Dalí heralded the artist's work as "the only truly Surrealist work to be found in America."

Gallery label from The Erotic Object: Surrealist Sculpture from the Collection, June 24, 2009–January 4, 2010
Wood box covered with velvet containing glass cubes resting in slots on blue glass, glass necklace, jewelry fragments, and glass chips
4 3/4 x 11 7/8 x 8 1/4" (12 x 30.2 x 21 cm)
Gift of James Thrall Soby
Object number
Painting and Sculpture