Prominent Black artist Eldzier Cortor died Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015 in Long Island, NY. He was 99. Cortor was born Jan. 10, 1916 in Richmond, Virginia and moved to the South Side of Chicago as a young boy. He graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1936 and went on to work as an artist with the WPA during the 1940s. As an art student, he said that studying at the Field Museum in Chicago made a dramatic impact on his life. Cortor once said about his study at the museum, “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 cylindrical and lyrical quality I was taught…to appreciate in African art.”
During his work as an artist with the WPA, he drew scenes of Depression-era Bronzeville, a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. In 1949, Cortor was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied in Jamaica, Cuba and Hati. His work was highly praised and he taught art at Centre d’Art in Port-au-Prince from 1949–1951. As an artist, Cortor specialized in impressionism and surrealism and was one of the first artists to make Black women the primary subject of his art. He was once quoted as saying, “The Black woman represents the Black race and continuance of life.”
Cortor’s work can be viewed in collections at Howard University, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago.