The Artwork of Dean Cornwell
Born in Louisville, Kentucky in March of 1892, Charles Dean Cornwell was an illustrator and muralist who was a dominant presence in American illustration during the first half of the twentieth- century. He began his professional career at the age of eighteen as a cartoonist for the Louisville Herald. In 1911, Cornwell found employment with the art department of the Chicago Tribune and began studies at the Chicago Art Institute where he studied under educator and painter Harvey Dunn, a prominent student of illustrator Howard Pyle and a member of the Brandywine School collective.
In 1915, Dean Cornwell traveled to New Rochelle, New York, well known for its established art colony, and studied under Dunn at the Art Students League in New York City where he eventually developed his own light-imbued style. In 1918 in Chicago, Cornwell married artist Mildred Montrose Kirkham, who also studied at the Chicago Art Institute. They had two children; however, due to Cornwell’s constant extramarital affairs, they separated after a few years but never divorced.
Possessing a strong work ethic, Cornwell often worked seventeen hours a day and through the entire week. His illustrations appeared in nearly every major publication in the United States including Redbook, Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping. In 1926, Cornwell signed a long-term contract with Cosmopolitan for an annual salary of one-hundred thousand dollars, equivalent to over a million dollars today.
Dean Cornwell illustrated the novels of authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Pearl S. Buck, W. Somerset Maugham, and short story writer Edna Ferber. He also illustrated posters to support the United States war efforts in three major conflicts, the Korean War effort and both the first and second World Wars. Through his career, Cornwell did advertising for hundreds of companies including General Motors, the Pennsylvania Railroad, Goodyear, and New York Life; he also illustrated ads for such products as Coca-Cola, Seagram’s Gin, and Palmolive Soap.
Deciding to dedicate the rest of his career to mural painting, Cornwell traveled to London in 1927, where he apprenticed to the painter Sir Frank William Brangwyn for a three-year study of mural painting. He assisted Brangwyn in a series of murals, including the British Empire Panels designed for the House of Lords. These panels, begun in 1925 and completed in 1932, were not hung in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords as intended. Considered too lively and colorful, the panels were housed in a specially built hall in Swansea.
The most renowned of Dean Cornwell’s murals is the Los Angeles Public Library’s twelve-panel “History of California” which encircles the Grand Rotunda. Painted on linen canvases and finished in 1933, the forty-foot tall panels took five years to complete. Cornwell, having used all the funding after two years, took on illustrative work to finance the project to its completion. His other murals include, among others, those for the General Motors exhibition at the 1939 World’s Fair, New York’s Hotel Warwick’s Raleigh Room, the Easter Airlines building (now 10 Rockefeller Plaza), Boston’s New England Telephone headquarters building, and the William Rappard Center in Geneva, Switzerland.
Cornwell lectured and taught at New York’s Art Students League. From 1922 to 1926, he served as the president of the Society of Illustrators and was elected into its Hall of Fame in 1959. Cornwall was elected in `923 into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician and achieved full status in 1940. He served as President of the National Society of Mural Painters for four years beginning in 1953. Charles Dean Cornwell died at the age of sixty-eight in New York City on December 4th of 1960. A collection of his papers, correspondence, sketches, scrapbooks and photographs are housed in the Archives of American Art located in the Victor Building in Washington, DC.
Note: A very extensive article on Dean Cornwell, complete with family history, can be found at the PulpArtists website: https://www.pulpartists.com/Cornwell.html
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Dean Cornwell in Studio”, Date Unknown, Gelatin Silver Print
Second Inset Image: Dean Cornwell, “Study of a Boy, for Water Mural”, 1927-33, Pastel and Charcoal Pencil on Paper, 58.4 x 38.1 cm, Private Collection
Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Dean Cornwell, Los Angeles Public Library”, 1933, Gelatin Silver Print
Bottom Insert Image: Dean Cornwell, “Study of a Boy, for Water Mural”, 1927-33, Pastel and Charcoal Pencil on Paper, Dimensions and Location Unknown