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Artists Artists

1892 - 1960
Photo: The Society of Illustrators
Dean Cornwell: American Imagist

Cornwell painting hangingDean Cornwell began his career as an illustrator in 1914 and worked steadily at his vocation until his death at 68. His art appeared regularly in popular magazines and important books written by a number of the most outstanding authors including: Pearl S. Buck, Lloyd Douglas, Edna Ferber, Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, and Owen Wister. This left-handed illustrator painted more than twenty murals for various public institutions and in the process became one of the nation's most popular and famous muralists.

Cornwell was born on March 5, 1892 in Louisville, Kentucky. His father, Charles L. Cornwell, a civil engineer, largely influenced the young boy's interest in drawing, perhaps from his own work drafting industrial subjects. Young Dean marveled at the detailed accuracy of the sketches of bridges and railroads found around the Cornwell home. A similar influence on his career was the nearby Louisville and Portland Canal constructed during the Industrial Revolution. As a result of its magnetic attraction for the young boy, one of Cornwell’s earliest drawings, at the age of 13, is entitled ‘Tell City’. It is a sketch of a steamboat passing along the Louisville and Portland Canal.

Like so many other illustrators of note, Dean attended the Art Students League in New York in 1915, where he met Charles Chapman and studied under Harvey Dunn, a disciple of Howard Pyle. Harvey Dunn proved to be a great influence on Cornwell in respect to color theory and composition. Dean was lucky enough to also study under the notable Frank Brangwyn, an English muralist of worldwide fame.

Dean Cornwell's work reveals a magnificent combination of dynamic colors with a formal composition of the various elements he wished to capture. He was known to create countless studies on paper before finally committing an image to canvas. This on-going refining process was an approach which created magnificent results, and his works were promptly accepted by art directors and publishers for the finest magazines: Harper’s Bazaar, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, and American Magazine. In his painting ‘Desert Healer’, Cornwell’s composition invokes both gravity and structure, giving the viewer a tactile sense of the atmosphere he created. The vast sky above Cornwell painting hanging counterbalances with the endless sand on earth below, and E.M. Hull's hero delicately divides the two as the central focus in this powerful work.

By the 1930’s and 40’s, Dean Cornwell was dubbed by Norman Rockwell, as the ‘Dean of Illustrators’ and his patriotic images and war posters were everywhere, as were his advertisements for blue chip companies: Seagrams, Palmolive Soap, Scripps-Howard newspapers, Coca-Cola, and General Motors. Cornwell painted a series of advertisements for Wyeth Laboratories which commemorated important occasions in the history of medicine, such as ‘Conquerors of Yellow Fever’. The Wyeth advertisements became collectibles which were on display in most drugstore windows. Paintings by Cornwell have been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Chicago Art Institute and the National Academy of Design. He taught and lectured at the Art Students League in New York City and at museums and art societies throughout the United States. James Montgomery Flagg paid him a great tribute when he said, “Cornwell is the illustrator par excellence-his work is approached by few and overtopped by none...he is a born artist.”


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  • Clifford Ashley
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  • William Aylward
  • Joyce Ballantyne
  • McClelland Barclay
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  • Arthur Becher
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  • F Sands Brunner
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  • Clara M Burd
  • Hal Burrows
  • Harrison Cady
  • Howard Chandler Christy
  • Frederick Stuart Church
  • Benton Clark
  • Matt Clark
  • John Clymer
  • Dean Cornwell
  • Douglas Crockwell
  • George Hughes
  • Peter Hurd
  • EO Hurst
  • Henry Hutt
  • Elbert McGran Jackson
  • Robert C Kauffman
  • JF Kernan
  • Rockwell Kent
  • WHD Koerner
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  • Norman Price
  • Howard Pyle
  • Ethel Ream
  • Sidney Reisenberg
  • Frederick Remington
  • Louis Rhead
  • Norman Rockwell
  • Alex Ross
  • Charles M Russell
  • Russell Sambrook
  • Mead Schaeffer
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  • Frank E Schoonover
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  • Charles Twelvetrees
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  • Andrew Wyeth
  • Jamie Wyeth
  • NC Wyeth