About this artwork
Eldzier Cortor was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1916 and moved with his family to the South Side of Chicago a year later. His coursework at the School of the Art Institute exposed him not only to the Art Institute’s iconic Western paintings but also to the Field Museum’s extraordinary collection of African art. When he decided to become a painter, he was drawn to abstraction but decided that nonobjective painting was incompatible with his desire to represent the African American experience and convey social messages with his art.
The Room No. VI is one of the finest examples of Cortor’s mature work, intended to expose the impoverished living conditions experienced by many African Americans on the South Side. Circumstances for many residents were challenging, as racism, segregation, and the increasing pace of migration of rural blacks from the South placed significant pressures on the limited housing stock. Entire families resided together, often in what were called “kitchenettes”—inadequate one-room spaces with limited access to kitchens or bathrooms. Despite his pressing social message, however, Cortor emphasized formal elements of pattern and texture, particularly the shapes and brilliant colors of the bed linens, floorboards, and wallpaper, whose dynamic, decorative appearance helps alleviate the bleakness of the scene. Cortor achieved a fundamental rethinking of the idiom of social realism that conveys the hardships of African American life in Chicago, even as he endowed the subject with a profound dignity and grace.
- Eldzier Cortor
- The Room No. VI
- United States
- Oil and gesso on Masonite
- Signed lower right: E. Cortor Inscribed on verso: "The Room No. VI" / Eldzier Cortor / July, 1948 / oil on gesso / size 31" x 42" / Chicago, IL
- 107.3 × 80 cm (42 1/4 × 31 1/2 in.)
- Through prior acquisition of Friends of American Art and Mr. and Mrs. Carter H. Harrison; through prior gift of the George F. Harding Collection
- © Eldzier Cortor.