Dean Cornwell (1892-1960)
Oil on Canvas
Illustrator and muralist Dean Cornwell began his professional career as a cartoonist for his hometown newspaper, the Louisville Herald. He soon relocated to Chicago where he worked in the art department of the Chicago Tribune and studied at the Art Institute. In 1915, he moved to New York City where he studied under Harvey Dunn and became a successful illustrator for many national magazines. Desiring to study mural painting, Cornwell traveled to London where he served as an apprentice under the internationally recognized Welsh muralist, Frank Brangwyn. From 1927 to 1932, Cornwell painted murals for the Los Angeles Public Library and the Lincoln Memorial Shrine.
Painted on canvas and affixed to the walls of the original octagon, the murals include two lunettes and a series of allegorical figures. One lunette is symbolic of Lincoln’s leadership in preserving the Union; the other honors his role in ending slavery. The eight allegorical figures, Wisdom, Strength, Justice, Patience, Courage, Faith, Tolerance and Loyalty, also adorn the Shrine’s domed ceiling. Cornwell felt that these eight attributes combined to form the foundation of Lincoln’s character.
Cornwell did not explain why he chose to depict these attributes as winged female figures. One explanation may lie in Lincoln’s first inaugural address where he appealed to the Southern states not to “break our bonds of affection.” The “mystic chords of memory,” said Lincoln “will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
Other notable commissions by Cornwell include the Eastern Airlines Building in Rockefeller Plaza, the U.S. Post Office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Raleigh Room at the Hotel Warwick in New York City, and the General Motors Exhibition at the New York World’s Fair in 1939.