Dean Cornwell Biography
"Artist Dean Cornwell is a painter who illustrates and an illustrator
who paints," says American illustrator James Montgomery Flagg.
During the 1920's and '30's, the very gifted Dean Cornwell (1892-1960) dominated the field of illustration in the United
States. He produced over 1,000 splendid illustrations for nearly every major publication in the country.
Cornwell chronicled life as it was then; the changing social values of the time, and the ever-emerging
His luminous paintings are now considered American masterpieces, visualized and conceived after
painstaking research, and rendered with genius. Cornwell's paintings have found their way into
important museums, galleries, and outstanding collections throughout the United States.
Unlike other American artists Edwin Austin Abbey and John Singer Sargent, Dean Cornwell is the
only illustrator ever chosen for exhibition and membership in the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
The particular illustration that earned him this distinguished honor appeared in the August 1928 issue
of Good Housekeeping. It is titled "Washing the Savior's Feet," and is one of a brilliant series
that Cornwell painted for the "Man of Galilee" articles written by Bruce Barton for that publication.
Dean Cornwell's career began March 5, 1892 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the son of Margaret Wickliffe
Dean and Charles L. Cornwell. From the beginning of his life he suffered from excruciating
headaches caused by severely impaired eyesight. Cornwell was limited in his ability to study or even
attend school because of his disability, but that time was spent with destiny along the Ohio riverbanks.
He enjoyed an inherent love of history, the river, and especially riverboats which, in 1905, he
crafted masterfully in ink and watercolor. This was the true beginning of his long and rich career
as an illustrator.
Properly prescribed glasses restored Cornwell's vision, freeing him to become the dean of American
Illustrators. From 1914 to the late 1950's, Dean Cornwell completed over 1,000 illustrations for
poems, stories, and novels. His work appeared in magazines and on posters as advertising art
for hundreds of products including Palmolive soap, Coca-Cola, The Scripps-Howard newspapers, Goodyear
Tires - a list too extensive to be named here.
Cornwell attended the Chicago Art Institute, was chief illustrator for the Chicago Tribune, and
while attending the Art Students League he met prominent art educator Harvey Dunn who exercised a profound
effect on Cornwell's style and philosophy of painting. Later he was to abandon these teachings for his own
particularly bold, light-drenched genre.
By 1929 Cornwell had become the most prominent illustrator in America. Among his many honors were
prizes from the Society of Fine Arts, Wilmington, Delaware; the Award of Merit, Chicago Art Institute; and
the Isidor Watercolor Prize, Salma Gundi Club, New York City. Dean Cornwell received gold medals for mural
painting from the Architectural League of New York, as well as gold medals from the Allied Artists of America - and
yet another gold medal from teh Society of Illustrators. He was elected associate, fellow, and served as chief
officer of many prestigious professional organizations. Cornwell's works have been exhibited extensively in this
country and internationally.
Cornwell's need for immortality drew him into mural painting. UInder the influence of internationally
celebrated muralist, Frank Brangwyn, Cornwell developed his hard-edged, literal style. One of Dean Cornwell's
major murals was the depiction of California history; four forty by forty foot canvases in the Los Angeles
public library which took five years to complete. All in all, Cornwell had four distinctive styles over the
decades. One of these emerges powerfully in his illustrations for the famous Captain Blood series, written by Raphael Sabatini. During this time, Cornwell evolved his brilliant, complex mosaic of color and vigorous
Eventually his life as an illustrator would be eclipsed by his interest in painting murals, but
his work as an illustrator will live on forever in his distinctive paintings. There is now a resurgence of
collectors here and abroad to own Dean Cornwell's masterworks. Dean Cornwell died in surgery December 4, 1960 in New
York City at 68 having worked to almost the last day of his life.
"Perhaps the most valuable thing that Harvey Dunn taught us was honest dealings with fellow man
and constant gratitude to the Maker above for the privilege of seeing the sun cast shadows." --- Dean Cornwell
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