2019-03-01 Western Art Collector

(Martin Jones) #1

Western Art News

Going Big

A Dean Cornwell mural study is back on display at

the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis.


t’s hard to think of Dean Cornwell’s
Americanization of California, now on
display at the Eiteljorg Museum of American
Indians and Western Art, as anything but a
finished masterpiece, but inspect the label
copy just a little and you’ll be surprised to see
one particular word: “study.”
The work, started in 1927 and finished
five years later in 1932, was a marvelous “first
draft” for Cornwell’s final mural of the same
name, a massive 40-by-40-foot canvas mural
at the Los Angeles Central Library. The mural is
flanked by two 12-by-19-foot mural panels in
a rotunda within the library’s halls.
The canvas study, which was acquired by
the Indianapolis museum in 1991 from the
museum’s founder, Harrison Eiteljorg, is now
one of several major highlights of the semi-
permanent exhibition Attitudes: The West in
American Art, which opened at the museum
in November 2018 after a lengthy renovation
of several museum galleries. Presented near
the work in the renovated gallery is a large
touchscreen that allows visitors to explore
aspects of the painting in an interactive way.
“...[V]isitors can pull up information about
each of the dozens of diverse figures depicted
in the Cornwell mural and consider the myths
portrayed in the painting versus the realities
of life in the West,” the museum says of the
In January, Eiteljorg curator Johanna M.
Blume gave a public talk about the importance
of the work, which was originally titled The
Arrival of the White Women, a not-so-subtle
way of suggesting that California was properly
settled once upper-class white women arrived
from the East. Blume’s presentation was
recorded and can be viewed on the Eiteljorg’s
Facebook page.
In the video, Blume refers to one particular
female figure in the painting that is easy to
miss amid the parade of people—trappers,
explorers, Native American chiefs, cowboys,

gentlemen in top hats and numerous
children—that Cornwell arranges in the
foreground. In the center of the painting,
shadowed and in the background, is a woman

holding a baby inside a covered wagon.
This figure is referred to here, as well as in
other paintings by other artists, as the “Prairie
Madonna,” echoing imagery from the Italian
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