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

  • Joseph Cornell, "They Say the Owl is a Baker's Daughter" Ophelia, 1971, collage with ink and pencil on paperboard, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation, 1991.155.335

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

Title
"They Say the Owl is a Baker's Daughter" Ophelia
Artist
Date
1971
On View
Not on view.
Dimensions
12 in. x 9 1/8 in. (30.6 x 23.2 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of The Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation

Mediums
Mediums Description
collage with ink and pencil on paperboard
Classifications
Keywords
  • Abstract
Object Number
1991.155.335
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

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1949-1950
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