The Human Thermostat

by Joseph Cornell (1903–1972)
Mixed media on board
11⅝ x 8½ inches
On verso: Joseph Cornell


Provenance Estate of the artist C & M Arts, New York, New York, 2002 Private collection, New York, New York Sale, Sotheby’s, New York, New York, November 15, 2007, lot 127 Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, New York Private collection, New York, New York

Exhibited C & M Arts, New York, New York, Joseph Cornell: Collages, July 19–September 13, 2002

Note: In his collage work, Cornell made use of popular magazines, photographs, and other clippings. This collage most likely derives from a Kodachrome (color film of the era) image in National Geographic. Since the magazine would bleed images to the paper’s edge, Cornell may have easily borrowed this image without cropping it to fit it on the board. The cutout of the nude figure is probably from Gent Magazine, a men’s periodical from the early 1960s. The typed collage on the reverse was clipped from an article written by T. H. Benzinger in Scientific American (January 1, 1961). The text reads, “THE HUMAN THERMOSTAT. A newly discovered sensory organ in the brain precisely measures the body temperature and trips the heat-dissipating mechanisms that maintain the temperature within a fraction of one degree.”

Artist Biography

Joseph Cornell was an innovative artist, known for his inventive collages, experimental films, and shadow box constructions containing found objects and discarded materials. As an artist, Cornell was largely self-taught. Born in Nyack, New York, he worked as a textile salesman for nearly a decade. After moving to Flushing, New York in 1929, Cornell began creating collages, using photographs, clippings from magazines, and other images from popular culture. He was an avid collector and searched through local stores, book shops, and antique fairs for objects and memorabilia. By the mid-1930s, Cornell had begun creating his signature shadow boxes. These works,

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