Eldzier Cortor

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Eldzier Cortor
Born (1916-01-10) January 10, 1916 (age 99)
Richmond, Virginia, United States
Occupation Artist and printmaker

Eldzier Cortor (born January 10, 1916) is an African-American artist and printmaker. His work typically features elongated nude figures in intimate settings,[1] influenced by both traditional African art and European surrealism.

Life and career[edit]

Cortor was born in Richmond, Virginia,[2] to John and Ophelia Cortor.[3] His family moved to Chicago when Cortor was about a year old, eventually settling in that city's South Side, where Cortor attended Englewood High School. Fellow students at Englewood included the African-American artists Charles Wilbert White and Margaret Burroughs.[4] He attended the Art Institute of Chicago, gaining a degree in 1936.[5] In 1940 he worked with the Works Progress Administration (WPA),[6] where he drew scenes of Depression-era Bronzeville, a neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. In 1949, Cortor studied in Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti on a Guggenheim Fellowship,[7] and taught at the Centre d'Art in Port-au-Prince from 1949–1951.


Studying the African sculptures at an exhibit at the Field Museum transformed his work.[8] "That was the most important influence in all my work, for to this day you will find in my handling of the human figure that clylindrical and lyrical quality I was taught...to appreciate in African art."[9]

Cortor was one of the first African-American artists to make African-American women his dominant theme,[10] explaining, "the Black woman represents the Black race, continuance of life."[11] His treatment of women has been criticised, for instance in a 1985 article in Art, which described the figure in Southern Gate (1942–43) as, "Stripped of integrity and reduced to a mere object…"[12] According to Adrienne Childs, Cortor’s Cuban Souvenir "presents an exoticized black woman whose red dress, red lips…evoke the stereotypical notion of the Latin female sexuality.” (Childs 1998: 122).

Mel Edwards mentions Cortor as an example of an African-American artist influenced by surrealism, "who often uses the female figure in a surreal interior and exterior environment."[13]

Exhibitions and collections[edit]

Cortor exhibited in the 1938 interracial show "An Exhibition in Defense of Peace and Democracy", which was sponsored by the Chicago Artists' Group.[14] In 1940 he was one of the young artists exhibited at "The Exhibition of the Art of the American Negro" in Chicago.[15] He also contributed to the 1967 City College of New York exhibition "The Evolution of Afro-American Artists: 1800 - 1950".[16] In 1976 his painting Interior was included in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition "Two Centuries of Black American Art", curated by David Driskell, which toured the U.S in 1977.[17] The 1988 group exhibition "Three Masters", at New York's Kenkeleba Gallery, featured Cortor's work alongside that of Hughie Lee-Smith and Archibald Motley. Michael Brenson, in The New York Times review of the show, expressed a preference for Cortor's still-life paintings, rather than his paintings of people.[18] The solo show "Eldzier Cortor: Master Printmaker" was exhibited at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute in 2002.[19] In 2010 his works were included in an exhibition at the Library of Congress,[20] and a selection of his works on paper exhibited at the Indiana University Art Museum.[21][22] In 2013 Cortor's prints will be featured in an exhibition at the San Antonio Museum of Art [23]

His works are held in the collections of Howard University,[24] the Smithsonian American Art Museum[25] and The Art Institute of Chicago.[26]


  1. ^ Jack Salzman, Cornel West, Encyclopedia of African-American culture and history, Volume 2, Macmillan Library Reference, 1996, p663.
  2. ^ "Eldzier Cortor papers, circa 1930s-2009, bulk, 1972-2009". Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Retrieved 10 July 2015. 
  3. ^ Patricia Hills, Melissa Renn, Syncopated rhythms: 20th-century African American art from the George and Joyce Wein collection, Boston University Art Gallery, 2005, p37.
  4. ^ Stacy I. Morgan, Rethinking social realism: African American art and literature, 1930-1953, University of Georgia Press, 2004, p50.
  5. ^ David C. Driskell et al, The other side of color: African American art in the collection of Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr, Pomegranate, 2001, p180.
  6. ^ Anderson Delano Macklin, A biographical history of African-American artists, A-Z, Edwin Mellen Press, 2001, p29.
  7. ^ Nineteen Young Americans, Life Magazine, 20 Mar 1950.
  8. ^ Lisa Gail Collins, The art of history: African American women artists engage the past, Springer Science & Business, 2002, p140.
  9. ^ Elton C. Fax, Seventeen Black Artists, Dood, Mead, 1971, p87.
  10. ^ Romare Bearden, Harry Brinton Henderson, A history of African-American artists: from 1792 to the present, Pantheon Books, 1993, p272.
  11. ^ Sharon F. Patton, African-American Art, Oxford University Press, 1998, p164.
  12. ^ Art 1985: 80
  13. ^ Melvin Edwards, Thinking about surrealism, in Franklin Rosemont, Robin D. G. Kelley, Black, Brown, & Beige: surrealist writings from Africa and the diaspora, University of Texas Press, 2009, p325.
  14. ^ Stacy I. Morgan, Rethinking social realism: African American art and literature, 1930-1953, University of Georgia Press, 2004, p151.
  15. ^ Ebony, Vol. 29, No. 2, Dec 1973, p39.
  16. ^ Ebony, Vol. 23, No. 4, Feb 1968, p117.
  17. ^ Louie Robinson, Ebony, Vol. 32, No. 4, Feb 1977, p35.
  18. ^ Michael Brenson, Review/Art, The New York Times, July 1, 1988.
  19. ^ Ashyia N. Henderson, Ralph G. Zerbonia, Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 42, Gale Research Inc., 2004, p44.
  20. ^ Fifty years of Robert Blackburn's printmaking workshop
  21. ^ "Black Spirit: Works on Paper by Eldzier Cortor", Indiana University website.
  22. ^ http://www.iub.edu/~iuam/online_modules/aaa/artist.php?artist=12
  23. ^ http://www.samuseum.org
  24. ^ Howard University collection website
  25. ^ americanart.si.edu
  26. ^ artic.edu


  • Bearden, Romare. A History of African-American Artists: From 1792 to the Present. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.
  • Fine, Elsa Honig. The Afro American Artist: A Search For Identity. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc, 1973.
  • Powell, Richard, J. 1997. Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson, Inc.
  • Childs, Adrienne, L. 1998. Narratives of African American Art and Identity: The David C. Driskell Collection. Rohnert Park, California. Pomegrantate Communications, Inc.
  • Trachtenburg, Alan. 1989. Reading American Photographs: Images as History; Matthew Brady to Walker Evans. New York, New York: Hill and Wang, A Division of Farrar, Stratus, and Giroux.
  • Various Essayists. 1985. Since the Harlem Renaissance: 50 Years of Afro American Art. Lewisburg, PA. The Center Gallery of Bucknell University.
  • Smithsonian: The National Portrait Gallery

External links[edit]


Paintings online