Dean Cornwell Vignettes

Armand Cabrera
I have some other posts planned on Dean Cornwell that will have more depth but I thought I’d start with some favorite examples for now. I tried to use images I haven’t seen before on the web and I used images from old auction catalogs so the color is better than other scans I’ve seen.
Cornwell is one of the few golden age illustrators that appeal to gallery artists and illustrators alike. His masterful compositions and use of thick bravura brushwork allows his paintings to survive beyond the illustrated page.

I happen to love his vignettes; these paintings were done for ads and illustrations usually in black and white or a limited palette for print of two or three colors.

All the extraneous details of a normal painting are stripped away and Cornwell gives us just enough to set the scene and make the characters live. I love the juxtaposition of abstract shape and rendered forms. Enjoy!

Sir Frank Brangwyn RA

Armand Cabrera

Frank Brangwyn was born in Bruges Belgium, in 1867. In 1874, his family moved to England. Frank Brangwyn received some artistic training in the workshops of William Morris, but received no formal artistic education. At the age of seventeen, one of Brangwyn’s paintings was accepted at the Royal Academy. His canvas, “Funeral At Sea”, painted in 1890, won a Medal of the 3rd Class at the 1891 Paris Salon.

When there was a strong interest in Orientalism, Brangwyn worked as a deck hand traveling to the Black Sea and Turkey. He created many outdoor paintings and drawings of Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Africa.

In 1895, the Parisian art dealer, Siegfried Bing, commissioned Brangwyn to decorate the exterior of his Galerie L’Art Nouveau. Brangwyn began mural painting as part of his repertoire. Brangwyn received many mural commissions.

In 1901, he painted murals for the Great Hall at Skinners, London. They were eventually completed in 1909.
Brangwyn painted eight murals for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, 1915. They are now located in the lobby at the Herbst Theatre.

His most famous murals are the British Empire Panels painted 1925 – 1932. They were commissioned to commemorate the First World War. The sixteen works cover 3,000 square feet in total. They were originally intended for the House of Lords at Westminster, but rejected for being too colorful and spirited. They are now located in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, Wales.

In 1930, Brangwyn was chosen by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. along with Diego Rivera to decorate the RCA Building in New York City. The murals were completed in 1934.

In 1936 Brangwyn presented the city of Bruges, Belgium with over four hundred works. In return, Bruges made Brangwyn a Grand Officer of the Order of Leopold II and Citoyen d’Honneur de Bruges (only the third time the award had been given). He was knighted in 1941.

As well as murals, paintings and drawings, Brangwyn also created designs for furniture and stained glass, ceramics, table glassware, buildings and interiors. In addition he illustrated books.

Brangwyn died on the 11th of June 1956 at his home in Sussex.


Frank Brangwyn the Bruges Collection
Dominique Marechal
Generale Bank 1987

Frank Brangwyn 1867-1956Leeds Museums & Galleries 2007

British Empire Panels Designed for the House of Lords By Frank Brangwyn
Frank Rutter
Lewis 1933

Frank Brangwyn and His Work
Walter Shaw Sparrow
Dana Estes and Company1911

Art is individuality added to tradition
~Frank Brangwyn

Dean Cornwell Paintings for ‘The Man of Galilee 12 Scenes from the Life of Christ’

from the book by Bruce Barton 1928

The Baptism of Jesus

The Woman at the Well

Nicodemus Calls at Night

Feeding the Five Thousand

The Man Who Was Rich but Not Wise

The Healing of the Sick

The Good Samaritan

The Prodigal Son

The Washing of His Feet

Weeping Over Jerusalem

Christ Before Pilate

The Crucifixion

Dean Cornwell paintings for City of the Great King

By William Lyon Phelps 1926

City of the Great King and Man of Galilee proved Dean Cornwell’s mastery of color and design
The images of Christ and the Holy Land are a tour de force of iconic western religious imagery. They are the stained glass windows of a church in paint.

The Street of David

There Were Shepherds in the Fields
The Carpenter of Nazareth
The Way of the Cross

A Copper Shop in Jerusalem
The Golden Gate
The Dead Sea and the Living Water

The Sea of Galilee

The Pot-Seller of Bethlehem

A House in Nazareth

The Road to Damascus

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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