Joseph Cornell: Untitled (Big Ben), 1972
photo of Big Bend on green paper
Joseph Cornell
Untitled (Big Ben), 1972
Print, photogravure on paper, 13 1/8 x 10 ¼ inches


Joseph Cornell’s Untitled (Big Ben), from 1972, which is also referred to as Untitled (Derby Hat) and Untitled (Man in Bowler Hat), is a collaged photogravure in colors on woven paper. Photogravure is a process in which an image is produced from a photographic negative, transferred to a metal plate, and then etched in. Cornell’s work is marked by the Surrealist impulse to combine found materials in collage, evident here in the layered elements of photograph, woven paper, and postage stamp.


A self-taught American artist, Joseph Cornell was known for his mixed media assemblages, found object sculptures, and collages. Throughout his life, Cornell gathered and collected objects of beauty and intrigue, keeping and cataloguing them for their personal meaning and later using them in his art. Though he dismissed Surrealism as a label of his work, Cornell was heavily influenced by this twentieth-century art movement that emphasized dreams, poetry, and the subconscious. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s found object “readymades,” Cornell created “shadow boxes,” each featuring carefully selected found objects relating to themes of childhood, space, exploration, and nostalgia. By elevating found objects to the level of fine art, artists like Cornell helped expand the definition of artwork beyond something made by hand to include pre-made objects carefully chosen with artistic intent. His work inspired future movements such as Installation Art, Fluxus, Appropriation, and Pop Art, all based on found objects.