Chicago painter and printmaker Eldzier Cortor became known in the art world for his graceful depictions of nude Black women and his use of surrealism. Mr. Cortor died this past Thanksgiving, just weeks shy of his 100th birthday.
Cortor was born January 10, 1916 in Richmond, Va. His family relocated to Chicago’s South Side and he attended Englewood High with fellow artists Charles Wilbert White and Margaret Taylor-Burroughs. He then attended the Chicago Art Institute, graduating in 1936.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies began to emerge, such as the Works Progress Administration, Cortor was one of several artists who became part of its Federal Art Project. Along with his time with the WPA and honing his craft, Cortor helped establish the South Side Community Art Center alongside the aforementioned Taylor-Burroughs and others.
In 1949, Cortor was named a Guggenheim Fellow and studied art abroad in Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti. The travels had a huge impact on his art, showcasing women of African descent in ways not normally seen in the arts scene. In the ’50’s, Cortor moved to New York, which is where he remained for the rest of his life.
Cortor’s work wasn’t especially popular during the peak of his career, but in his later years, there was renewed interest in his work. In February of this year, Cortor was honored by his alma mater, which acquired several pieces of his works since the 1990s.
In an interview, the artist said painting was the one thing that sustained him and he didn’t view it as a means of making lots of money. He also attributed the interest in his artwork was because of his longevity and ability to create at an advanced age.
The Whitney Museum in New York featured Cortor and other 20th Century African-American artists during its inaugural show. Cortor was thankful for the opportunity, but did note that it took longer for these types of showcases to happen. Despite this, the results of Cortor’s 70-year career have been shown at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Brooklyn Museum, among other institutions.