1892 - 1960
Dean Cornwell was a brilliant left-handed painter and muralist who dominated the illustration field for many years.
Dean Cornwell began his professional art career at age 18 as a cartoonist for the Louisville Herald. A year later, he enrolled at the Chicago Art Institute and went to work in the art department of the Chicago Tribune. At the Chicago Art Institute, he met and studied under prominent art educator Harvey Dunn. In 1915 Dean Cornwell followed Dunn to New York and joined him in his studio-classroom. After studying with Dunn Cornwell quickly became a success, although he eventually developed his own bold, light-drenched style.
He married artist Mildred Montrose Kirkham in Chicago in 1918, but his constant extramarital affairs caused the couple to separate after just a few years of marriage. They had two children but never divorced.
Dean Cornwell always had a strong work ethic and often worked seventeen-hour days, seven days a week. He produced over 1,000 illustrations for nearly every major publication in the country including Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping magazines.
In 1926 he signed a long-term contract with Cosmopolitan for the unheard-of annual salary at the time of $100,000, about $1,350,000 today.
He illustrated the work of authors including Pearl S. Buck, Lloyd Douglas, Edna Ferber, Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, and Owen Wister. He did advertising illustrations for hundreds of companies including GM, Eastern Airlines, Pennsylvania Railroad, Paul Jones Whiskey, Aunt Jemima, Seagram’s Gin, Woodbury Soap, Palmolive, Coca-Cola, Goodyear, New York Life and Squibb. During the first World War he produced posters promoting the war effort.
He was a major presence in American illustration during the first half of the 20th century. Due to his popularity he was nicknamed the “Dean of Illustrators.”
In 1927 he decided to devote the rest of his life to mural painting and traveled to England to study mural painting for three years under famous muralist and autodidact Frank Brangwyn. Brangwyn selected Cornwell to assist him in a series of murals, including one at the House of Lords. Cromwell claimed that he rarely made much money from his murals and he continued his illustration work whenever he needed money.
Dean Cornwell’s murals include his well-known work at the Los Angeles Public Library that was four-forty-feet-wide by forty-foot-high, took five years to complete and told the history of California. Also in California is his mural at the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands. Cornwell painted murals in New York City at the Eastern Airlines Building (now 10 Rockefeller Plaza), the Raleigh Room at the Hotel Warwick, and the General Motors mural at the 1939 World's Fair. He also painted murals at the New England Telephone (now Verizon) headquarters building in Boston, the Davidson County Courthouse and Sevier State Office Building in Tennessee, and the Centre William Rappard in Geneva, Switzerland. During the depression he painted Federal Art Project murals in post offices in Chapel Hill and Morganton, North Carolina.
Dean Cornwell taught and lectured at the Art Students League in New York City and served as president of the Society of Illustrators from 1922 to 1926. He 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 the Society of Illustrators. Cornwell's 1928 Washing the Savior's Feet, originally painted for Good Housekeeping, was accepted for display by Britain's prestigious Royal Academy, one of the few American artists to receive this honor. In 1934 he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate Academician and became a full Academician in 1940. He served as President of the National Society of Mural Painters from 1953 to 1957. In 1959 he was inducted into the Society of Illustrator's Hall of Fame.
Dean Cornwell died on December 4, 1960 in New York City.