Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Recently Read: The Art of Dean Cornwell

The Art of Dean Cornwell, by Daniel Zimmer, is a much needed addition to the library of books concerning great American illustrators of the 20th Century. Cornwell was a link between early illustrator and visionary Howard Pyle and pulp magazine master Walter M. Baumhofer, who studied under Cornwell.

This coffee table book is probably the finest on Cornwell which will ever be published, using original paintings when possible to illustrate his prolific early period under mentor Harvey Dunn; beautiful, John Singer Sargent-like compositions painted for magazines in their golden age. Cornwell's later work for murals and tightly rendered work for magazines into the '50s loses spontaneity but is still quite gorgeous. The reproduction of color painting after color painting is top-notch.

The artwork is preceded by a short biography, which could have used an editor (none is listed). The text brings up more questions than Zimmer answers. Cornwell, for example, wrote essays defending artists from the accusation that they are Lotharios who exploit their relationship with their nude models, but Cornwell seems to have done the very thing he protested against. Zimmer doesn't comment on this. Cornwell left his wife and family early in his career. Soon after his death, twenty-five years later, his widow gained access to his studio and tried to destroy every bit of artwork by Cornwell she could, throwing the destroyed work into the building's incinerator. There's certainly a story here, but the bare facts are merely laid down and left. The Art of Dean Cornwell could have benefited from an index, as well.

Most of the book's content, though, is stunning art which today's painters, whether fine artists or illustrators, can appreciate, study and learn from. Many thanks to Anthony Siriano for the chance to read The Art of Dean Cornwell.

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