Eldzier Cortor

born Richmond, VA 1916-died Seaford, NY 2015
Richmond, Virginia, United States
Seaford, New York, United States
Active in
  • Chicago, Illinois, United States

A painter and master printmaker best known for his celebratory depictions of the African American woman, Eldzier Cortor was born in Richmond, Virginia, and raised in Chicago. Cortor went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, and in the 1930s worked as an easel painter for the Works Project Administration (WPA), depicting the lives of African Americans in Chicago's South Side. During this time, he helped establish the SouthSide Community Art Center.

In the 1940s, two fellowships from the Rosenwald Foundation allowed Cortor to study the Gullah community on the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina, and to paint its African American inhabitants. Cortor found inspiration in the island’s people, heavily influenced by their African heritage. He also focused primarily on the female figure, stating: "the Black woman represents the Black race." Cortor returned time and again to the female figure reminiscent of his Gullah depictions, despite having lived in various countries of the African diaspora and changing artistic styles in the United States.

Related Books

African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, The Civil Rights Movement, and Beyond
African American Art: Harlem Renaissance, Civil Rights Era, and Beyond offers a rich vision of twentieth-century visual culture. An essay by Richard Powell sets the stage: his analyses of works by Sargent Johnson, Renée Stout, Eldzier Cortor, and Alma Thomas give the reader a rubric for considering other works that range from the Harlem Renaissance to the decades beyond the civil rights era, a period that saw tremendous social and political change. The forty-three artists included here worked in every style current during those decades, from documentary realism to abstraction, from expressionism to postmodern assemblage. They consistently touch universal themes, but they also evoke specific aspects of the African American experience—the African Diaspora, jazz, and the persistent power of religion.