DEAN CORNWELL Original Oil from Cosmopolitan Magazine 1923

DEAN CORNWELL Original Oil Illustration for “The Letter” by W. Somerset Maugham COSMOPOLITAN Magazine (1923)


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This ORIGINAL Oil on board by DEAN CORNWELL is 40″ x 30″ and was done for COSMOPOLITAN MAGAZINE in 1923. (I believe the painting was published in the April 1924 issue.) This is one of several striking compositions Cornwell did for W. SOMERSET MAUGHAM’S “The Letter” published in Cosmopolitan. I purchased the over-sized painting directly from Walt Reed at his Illustration House gallery when it was still located in Connecticut in the mid- 1980’s, before he relocated the business to Manhattan. I have owned it ever since.

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In the spirit of full disclosure, Walt shared a very interesting story about how Cornwell managed to survive the ordeal of a very nasty divorce. Apparently, his disgruntled wife attempted to destroy many of his paintings when they split and this piece was one that was caught in the crossfire. Luckily, the piece was bent or folded right down the middle of the piece by his wife, leaving both gorgeous figures completely unharmed by the damage. Walt, a skilled painter in his own right, returned the piece to it’s former glory with a master restoration job. He did such an incredible job that most would never imagine this painting was restored. Examine the large images below – I’ve included one that points out the vertical area where the main part of the restoration was done. You can’t tell even with very close scrutiny of the original! Please note: To hide original damage at the top and bottom edge of the painting, the yellowed beige of the background illustration board is now a “painted” facsimile of the aged board surface color – not unpainted, bare board showing through as it was originally executed.

Dean Cornwell (March 5, 1892 – December 4, 1960) was an American illustrator and muralist. His oil paintings were frequently featured in popular magazines and books as literary illustrations, advertisements, and posters promoting the war effort. Throughout the first half of the 20th century he was a dominant presence in American illustration and one of America’s most distinguished craftsman. At the peak of his popularity he was nicknamed the “Dean of Illustrators”. He served as president of the Society of Illustrators from 1922 to 1926, and was elected to its Hall of Fame in 1959.

Cornwell’s paintings graced the pages of Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Redbook, and Good Housekeeping magazines, illustrating the work of authors including Pearl S. Buck, Lloyd Douglas, Edna Ferber, Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, and Owen Wister. He painted murals for the Los Angeles Public Library, the Lincoln Memorial Shrine in Redlands, California, the Eastern Airlines Building (now 10 Rockefeller Plaza), the U.S. Post Office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Warwick New York Hotel in New York City, the New England Telephone headquarters building in Boston, the Davidson County Courthouse and Sevier State Office Building in Tennessee, and the Centre William Rappard in Geneva, Switzerland. His ambitious mural for the Los Angeles Public Library was a rendering of the history of California. Cornwell later did some work for Hollywood and his concept paintings for the landmark film “The Robe” are praised by artists and art lovers alike.



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