Larger Type
Smaller Type

Search Collections

"They Say the Owl is a Baker's Daughter" Ophelia

1971 Joseph Cornell Born: Nyack, New York 1903 Died: New York, New York 1972 collage with ink and pencil on paperboard 12 in. x 9 1/8 in. (30.6 x 23.2 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation 1991.155.335 Not currently on view

Exhibition Label

Toward the end of his life, Joseph Cornell created deeply personal and enigmatic drawings reminiscent of Rorschach ink blots, which became very popular in the 1960s as psychological tests. Beginning with a suggestive drawing in ink on paper, the artist folded the paper so that the wet image transferred to the opposite half of the paper, forming a symmetrical image. He then embellished the drawing with lines or collage elements to create composition, suggested to him by the resulting forms.
Sometimes the image suggested an association from which Cornell derived a title for the work and sometimes he appears to have had a subject in mind before making the image. “They say the owl is a baker’s daughter” is one of Ophelia’s lines in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It refers to a popular legend in which Christ transforms a baker’s daughter into an owl after she has denied him a piece of bread. The owl, also a symbol of night, death, and virginity, often appears in Cornell’s work.

Abstract Drawings, 2012



Object - art object - rorschach drawing