The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation is a charitable trust created by the will of acclaimed 20th century artist Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) that honors the memory of the artist and his disabled younger brother. The trust supports a variety of nonprofit beneficiaries, with an emphasis on the arts.
Joseph Cornell, one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, was born on December 24, 1903 in Nyack, New York to loving parents: Joseph, a fabric designer, and his wife Helen. He had an idyllic childhood filled with holiday celebrations, music-filled family gatherings and outings to Coney Island and various theatrical venues in Manhattan. When he was 13, his father tragically died of leukemia, leaving the family in financial straights. From 1917-1921, Joseph attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts through the generosity of his father’s former employer. After leaving school, he returned home to his family in Queens. Serving as the principal breadwinner, he worked as a low level textile salesman. In 1929, the family purchased a home at 3708 Utopia Parkway in Flushing, New York where he would live the rest of his life, caring for his mother and physically handicapped brother, Robert.
Joseph Cornell made his first work of art in 1931, inspired by an exhibition of French Surrealists that he had seen in Manhattan. These early collages were followed by a series of works that eventually evolved into the glass-fronted “shadow boxes” for which he is primarily recognized today. Known as assemblage art, Cornell’s boxes are lauded for their poetic sensibilities: dream-like works that often evoke a nostalgia for the past. Cornell was also an experimental filmmaker and is considered a pioneer in the art of collage film. He passed away a few days after his 69th birthday on December 29, 1972.
Exhibitions of Cornell’s works have taken place in many countries around the world, the most recent of which, “Wanderlust,” occurred in 2015 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Robert Cornell, born on June 6, 1910, was the fourth child of Joseph and Helen Cornell. Robert was born with a severe form of cerebral palsy which left him wheelchair bound his entire life. In addition, he suffered from a speech impediment due to this condition. Yet despite these physical infirmities, he was not mentally impaired and was known for a sense of humor and appreciation of life that was ”irresistible.”* He enjoyed hobbies such as an extensive model train collection and drawing. The very close relationship with his older brother Joseph endured until Robert’s passing on February 26, 1965 from pneumonia.
It is a testament to Joseph’s devotion to his younger brother that he requested that the charitable trust created under his will be named in his brother’s memory as well as his own.
*Sandra Leonard Starr, Joseph Cornell: The Hotel of the Golden Bee (For James Corcoran) 1992.
Richard M. Ader
For permission to reproduce works of art by Joseph Cornell in any manner and media, please contact the Foundation’s licensing representative:
VAGA at ARS
65 Bleecker Street,12th Floor
New York, NY 10012
212 420 9160
One Boar's Head Pointe, Suite 127
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Executive Director: Melissa A. Young
All works of art by Joseph Cornell and text appearing on this site are ©The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation /Licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York, NY. For questions concerning Joseph Cornell or his work, contact the Joseph Cornell Study Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. at AmericanArtCornellStudy@si.edu.