Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dean Cornwell

Armand Cabrera
(All images Dean Cornwell)

Dean Cornwell was born on March 5th 1892 in Louisville, Kentucky.
He first worked as a cartoonist for the Louisville Herald. After leaving Louisville he moved to Chicago. It was there he had the chance to meet many New York illustrators and decided he would become one himself. He moved to New York at the age of 23 and enrolled in the Art Students League.

At the League he met Harvey Dunn who had started a summer class in Leona, New Jersey. Under Dunn’s tutelage Cornwell’s work took on new dimensions and became more painterly and dramatic. Many of the other students who were successful illustrators in their own right were amazed at the transformation. When asked, Harvey Dunn said “Cornwell was already an accomplished illustrator and only needed to be shown the way.” Cornwell acknowledged his teacher by saying “I gratefully look back on the time I sat at Harvey Dunn’s feet. He taught art and illustration as one. He taught it as religion-or awfully close to such.”

After studying with Dunn, the young Cornwell quickly became a success. Cornwell always had a strong work ethic. Seventeen hour days, seven days a week was not an unusual schedule for him; a practice he kept even after becoming one of the best illustrators in the country. He married in 1918 but Cornwell’s constant extramarital affairs caused the couple to separate after just a few years of marriage, though they never divorced and had two children.

In the 1920’s Cornwell was at the height of his abilities as an illustrator. He was elected president of the Society of Illustrators in 1922 and held the office for three years. In 1923 he helped Russian artist Nicholai Fechin find a place in New York and studied with him for several months.

In 1926 Cornwell signed a long term contract with Cosmopolitan that allowed him to earn a $100, 00.00 a year. In 1927 he decided to devote the rest of his life to mural painting and began studying mural painting with Frank Brangwyn in England for three years. He continued his illustration work whenever he needed money.

According to Cornwell he rarely made money from his mural commissions and just barely covered expenses. By 1940 he was one of the most popular muralists in the country. Although he continued illustrating for the rest of his life completing over 1000 illustrations for clients during his career, he considered himself a muralist, finishing over twenty murals in his lifetime.

Dean Cornwell died at the age of 68 of complications from the rupture of a main artery.


Dean Cornwell Dean of Illustrators
Patricia Broder
Balance House Limited 1978

Forty Illustrators and How They Work
Ernest Watson
Watson Guptill Publications 1946

Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post
Ashley Halsey Jr.
Arlington House 1951

A great colorist is known for their grays just as a chef is known for their gravies and sauces. The grays are the sauces that flavor all the other colors on the canvas. ~Dean Cornwell