United States of America 1903 – 1972
Les caprices de Gizelle [Gizelle's caprices]
New York, United States of America
Materials & Technique: sculptures, box construction
In a diary entry for 25 January 1947 Cornell refers to this box: 'work on etuis (small cabinets) progressed — Les Petites Filles Modèles, Les Caprices de Gizelle, Les Perles de l'Opera …',1 which provides a more precise date and title than has formerly been attributed to the work.
On the back of the box are pasted cuttings from a book which read:
Chère enfant, voici un volume que je te dédie. Je désire qu'il t'amuse, et que tes amis te reconnaissent dans les bonnes petites filles que j'ai mises en scène. C'est à cause de tes bonnes et aimables qualités, que ma tendresse pour toi ne viellit pas et qu'elle se maintiendra la même jusqu'au dernier jour de ma vie.
These cuttings are from a volume of plays for children entitled Comédies et Proverbes, published in Paris in 1869 by Hachette. Its author, the Comtesse Sophie de Ségur (1799-1874), wrote popular stories for children which she dedicated to her grandchildren. The text of this volume is interspersed with woodcut illustrations by Emile-Antoine Bayard (1837-91). Cornell must have owned a copy of this book, for not only did he cut out the Comtesse de Ségur's dedication which precedes the main text, he also singled out Bayard's illustrations from this volume for the play Les Caprices de Gizelle and pasted these over the box.3
Comédies et Proverbes belonged to the children's series called 'Bibliothèque Rose Illustrée and this may explain why Cornell washed over the outside of the box with rose-madder ink. Bibliothèque Rose circulated widely during the nineteenth century and the popularity of Madame de Ségur's stories extended into the early twentieth century. Cornell mentions the series several times in his diaries. In an entry for 24 January 1947, the same day that he refers to his work on The Caprices of Gizelle, he notes coming across a 'Windfall of Bibliothèque rose to cover etuis' in a second-hand bookshop on 59th Street.4 For Cornell these books evoked what he frequently termed 'the golden age of childhood', which he recreated in boxes like the Caprices of Gizelle. The box also captures the nostalgia and sense of romance Cornell felt for the nineteenth century.
The inside walls of the box are lined with deep blue plus velvet. Each shelf contains a small cardboard box coated with embossed paper imitating leather. Cornell stained the surface of these boxes with dark blue ink, and onto the bottom of each he pasted pieces of text in French taken from a volume of The Three Musketeers. Each text, on each of the three boxes, mentions the name of one of the musketeers. The middle box is a recent replacement.
The name 'Gizelle' also carries an echo of the ballet Giselle of 1841, which would not have escaped the notice of Cornell as a balletomane. Cornell's knowledge of ballet was extensive and scholarly. He devoted numerous boxes to this subject and was a regular contributor to the periodical Dance Index.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.220.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra