|Acquisition Number: 2022.7
Watercolor and pencil
12 1/4 x 19 in.
Credit: The Estate of Thomas Cornell
The pencil base of "Man with Vine Leaves" was done in 1962, and the watercolor layer was added a couple years later. The man represented was most likely a friend or acquaintance of Cornell, during a time that Cornell had the Vietnam war on his mind. Another work by Cornell with this same subject and style made during this time features the full figure of the man with the barrel of a rifle slung over his shoulder. At the same time and throughout his career, Cornell was intrigued by ideas of Dionysos, the Greek god of wine and fertility.
Cornell’s Dionysos is based on Euripides’ play, "The Bacchae." The play is a tragedy, and Cornell always kept its lessons close to his heart. Pentheus’ arrogant male power and laws, which Cornell associated with corporate power and the military-industrial state, cannot win over the power of the Greek gods, who for Cornell stand in for Nature and natural law. Dionysos leads people to understand that our primary duty must be to nurture each other and the land. In "Man with Vine Leaves," Cornell has transformed this figure into a follower of Dionysos, decorating him with vine leaves, making him an individual who strives to live in harmony with others and the natural world.