Remembering Eldzier Cortor

Thanksgiving weekend was tinged with grief this year as the art world mourned the loss of painter and print-maker Eldzier Cortor. Born in Richmond, Virginia in 1916, his family moved to Chicago where Cortor would attend Englewood High School with fellow future artists Margaret Burroughs, Charles White and Charles Sebree. He went on to study drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago and became a founding member of the South Side Community Arts Center. Cortor’s work on the African diaspora was informed by his travels to Sea Island, Georgia on a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship, as well as trips to Jamaica, Cuba and Haiti through a Guggenheim Fellowship. He passed away at his son’s home in Seaford, NY, at the age of 99. 

Eldzier Cortor, Classical Study, No. 36, oil on canvas, circa 1979. 

Director of Swann Galleries’ African-American Fine Art department Nigel Freeman said, “We are very saddened to learn of the passing of Eldzier Cortor on Thanksgiving Day in his 100th year. Eldzier Cortor was an extraordinary American artist, a uniquely talented painter and printmaker, who rose from the South Side of Chicago during the Depression to have his artwork included in major institutional collections. He captured the beauty of the African-American female figure, and created some of the most evocative images of the 1940s. Cortor’s paintings elevated the depiction of the black experience, transforming social realism in order to show the complexity and richness of the diaspora.” 

Eldzier Cortor, Composition Study III, etching and aquatint, 1974. At auction December 15, 2015.

An interview with Cortor, conducted by the New York Times shortly before his death, gives a view into themes in Cortor’s work as well as his thoughts on the relationship between painting and viewer. The piece is now stands as a lovely memorial to an insightful artist.