It was through the meditation of Susan Sontag’s review of Maurice Nadeau’s book on surrealism that Joseph Cornell renewed his acquaintance with the writings of André Breton. This renewed contact was as Cornell put it, a risorgimento, bringing again the image of “the midnight sunflower”. It was not only Breton’s face that appealed to Joseph Cornell but certain images associated with him. These had, like his face, a certain talismanic appeal: see, for instance, the diamond, standing for Breton’s dream of the crystal.
Two things associated with Breton had special meaning for Cornell. First, Breton’s image of communicating vessels, with the marvelous interchange of one thing and another, this baroque interpenetration perfectly emblematized in the scientific experiment of the same name. in a sense, this imagined communication of elements compensates for the radical enclosures of his shadow theater boxes, as if between the boxes a link could be perceived. The midnight sunflower refers to Breton’s poem Tournesol (Sunflower), in which he recounts the discovery of marvelous encounter of his love, inspiring Cornell’s box Tournesol, itself an encounter, like all of his boxes. On this particular box, he worked repeatedly in January and February 1966: Cornell’s Breton period.