Dean Cornwell Mural Study, ca. 1941
This is an oil sketch, or a rough draft, if you will, done by artist Dean Cornwell. It depicts the characters that he was pitching to my grandfather, the architect, for a set of murals in the Tennessee State Office Building in Nashville in the late '30s, early '40s. And it's kind of cool, because it's signed, and it's also dedicated to my grandfather.
So tell me a little bit more about how they knew each other.
Well, in 1937, my grandfather had also hired Dean Cornwell for another building in Nashville. It was the Davidson County Courthouse. And then, a few years later, when Grandfather got the Tennessee State Office Building project, Dean Cornwell made a return appearance for another set of murals. And he ended up giving the rough draft, the oil sketch, to my grandfather.
Okay, and have you been able to figure out who any of these characters in the painting might be?
This sketch, it's kind of hard to tell. But in the two final versions that are hanging in the office building, there are some keys or some legends that actually depict who is Daniel Boone or Andrew Jackson or John Sevier, who was our first state governor. These are kind of nondescript, but it gave you an idea of what he was thinking when he was going to do the murals.
Mm-hmm, yeah. So Dean Cornwell is a fairly well-known American illustrator, and he was actually born right here in Louisville, Kentucky. He did go to Chicago for school at the Art Institute, and then the Art Students League in New York. But this was his hometown, so it's really special to see this piece here.
I didn't know that.
He was hired to do these two murals, which are now in the actual John Sevier State Building. That's in Nashville, Tennessee. What I find really interesting about this is that it is a preliminary oil painting for the two much larger murals that he ended up realizing. It combines elements from both of those, which is really kind of neat to see, how he may have used this painting to pitch the idea to your grandfather, or whoever else was making the decisions, and just say, "This is kind of what I'm thinking. This is the way I want to go with this." And out of that were born these two murals that still exist today. It's really special, because, as you can imagine, those murals are permanently affixed to that building, and they will continue to stay there. People can go see them, but that's really the only access that the public has to a painting like this. You can't purchase it. It cannot be bought at auction or in a gallery. It's a public artwork. The painting is oil on board, and we even have a bit of gold pigment in the upper sky area, which mimics the final mural. We do have a signature and a date in the lower center. His name, Dean Cornwell, and he always stacked his name that way, where you have "Dean" on the top and then "Corn" followed by "Well," and the date of 1942, which is probably not when it was painted but when it was given to him. Now, do you have any idea of the value? Have you had the painting appraised?
I inherited this from my grandmother, probably 1984, and we thought it would be a good idea to get it appraised then for insurance purposes. And I can't remember what the figure was. I think it was somewhere, plus-or-minus around $10,000, maybe?
If we were going to estimate this painting for auction today, the estimate would be $25,000 to $45,000.
I would not insure this for any less than $90,000.
Mmm. My goodness. 90! (laughing) Wow, that's incredible. Wow. I think my sister is going to not speak to me after this. (laughing)
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Summer Night Concerts
Relax with four amazing concerts from the Vienna Philharmonic and special guests.