Dean Cornwell

During the Golden Age of Illustration, many illustrators created outstanding work, but one of my favorites is Dean Cornwell.

He was born March 5, 1892 in Louisville, Kentucky. Dean studied at the Art Institute in Chicago and went on to New York City to study with the Art Students League of New York. Beginning to make a name for himself he created Illustrations for prominent magazines such as Harpers Bazaar and Cosmopolitan. He even did work for Ernest Hemingway and other authors.


Dean Cornwell working on one of four sections of the mural for the Los Angeles Public Library – 1933

Not only an Illustrator for paper, he was a successful muralist. A well-known mural he completed was for the Los Angeles Public Library. The mural included the four parts of California’s history… Era of Discovery, the Missions, Americanization, and the Founding of the City of Los Angeles. He had never painted murals prior and successfully completed the large four panels that still stand today in the rotunda.

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Couple Sitting at Opposite Ends of Bench in Moonlight – 1923

Cornwell was the President of the famous Society of Illustrators for four years. He was later inducted into their Hall of Fame only a year before his death.


Cosmopolitan Story Illustration – 1930

Looking at his work, it does have many similarities style-wise to others of the era (Leyendecker and Tepper). The almost gestural/characterized figures create an atmosphere of movement. Another major aspect of his paintings is the color palette. A large amount of his work is done in monotone or with accents, along with pale pigments. I personally enjoy the paintings of his done like the one above.

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Unknown – Unknown Date

If you look at this unknown sketch above, you will see the part of the process to complete a painting. He does do preliminary drawings of the figures and composition and then seems to move towards a study like this. Using pencil work that is gestural and then going on top loosely with just the colors creates his notable style. It is not as if he sits there and blends and smooths his paint out, it looks like Dean throws it on the canvas not worrying too much about it.

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Who Hired You? – 1924

Another part of his work that is like many other of the era was the almost “incomplete” nature of his illustrations. He focuses on major figures and landmarks in his works, but leaves many parts of the canvas/paper untouched or covered in white paint. I particularly enjoy this for some reason and I cannot put words to it.

Dean Cornwell was an impeccable illustrator and his work clearly shows that. He earned his spot near the top illustrators of all time and I strive to be influenced by both his work ethic and style.


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