About this work

Letter from Joseph Cornell to Dorothea Tanning


The "mermaid friends" are found in the painting The Truth About Comets (1945).

Dear Dorothea,
     What a fairyland we find ourselves in! Never have we been piled higher with the topiary art and crystallized downfalls and drifts, as you probably know from the radio.
     But even warmed I’m afraid that I’d still be an ungracious host to all this richesse. Dorothea, I’m in need of and await some flashings of your little mermaid friends who make such exquisite and poetic use of their native metamorphosed element.  Have any of their sisters or cousins been showing up lately in any of your work?
     What we are experiencing is an extravagant extension of an already white Christmas and this overflow of old fashioned winter, while really bad for the city, has aspects that I’ll probably have to enjoy in a happy afterglow.  Reactions these days do not seem to be so sustained as heretofore and their intensities – while momentarily acute – short lived.
     The aspect of our paysage reminds me of an object (new) that I think you’d like.  It has lain in  the attic for almost a year and a half and has no direct connection with the winter season (for inspiration and time of year that it was worked on, I mean).  It is a box (very large) of snow owls in a rocky (beige) habi-tat (base), the upper part taken up by silvery crystalized branches – all against a singing blue(light) ground. It is too much on the Victorian side (at present) to be a bona fide “object”, and yet this is what I like about it.  I think I’ll touch it up a bit still keep it pretty much the same – to enjoy in the company of people like yourself and our little comet friends.  I am sure that the snow owls do not know – wise as they are – many secrets that have been kept from these latter.

     I had looked forward to seeing you as had many others and was sorry to hear of the indisposition that kept you home.  Hope things are O.K. with you out there and that your paintings shape up fast enough for a feast some day in the not too distant future.

                     Love to you and Max.

December 29, 1947
* Green for Ondine