Room No. V
Eldzier Cortor (American, 1916–2015)
Height x width: 31 x 27 in. (78.7 x 68.6 cm)
Medium or Technique
Oil on Masonite
Not On View
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Cortor and his family relocated to Chicago in 1917 as part of the Great Migration, when many African American families moved from the southern United States to the north in search of jobs. As a child, Cortor attended evening classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and saw African sculpture at the nearby Field Museum. He eventually joined the easel division of the Federal Art Project and became a central figure within Chicago’s dynamic group of African American writers, artists, and performers, who often gathered at the South Side Community Center, where Cortor also taught art classes. Various fellowships enabled Cortor to broaden his horizons, initially in Sea Island, Georgia, where he encountered the Gullah, an African American community that had preserved many of their African traditions, and later in Cuba and Jamaica.
Cortor observed that he frequently “worked with what’s around me, though sometimes I reach back for something out of my memory.”  Room No. 5 is filled with such references. The center of the composition focuses on a female nude reflected in a mirror of a large wooden dresser. “[T]he Black woman,” declared Cortor, “represents the Black race … she is the Black Spirit; she conveys a feeling of eternity and continuance of life.”  The pose of the woman, with elongated neck and hand resting on her chin, recalls both the influence of African sculpture and a long tradition in European art of images of women and mirrors. Cortor’s nude is surrounded by waning gentility, seen in the tattered carpet and peeling paint and wallpaper. The artist selected a frame with a worn and distressed finish to enhance the mood of his composition.
1. Eldzier Cortor, quoted in Patricia Hills and Melissa Renn, Syncopated Rhythms: 20th-Century African American Art from the George and Joyce Wein Collection, exh. cat. (Boston: Boston University Art Gallery, 2005), 37.
2. Eldzier Cortor, quoted in Corrine L. Jennings, “Eldzier Cortor: The Long Consistent Road,” in Three Masters: Eldzier Cortor, Hughie Lee-Smith, Archibald John Motley, Jr., by Kenkeleba Gallery, exh. cat. (New York: Kenkeleba Gallery, 1988), 15.
Janet L. Comey
Inscribed on the verso: "The Room No. V" / Eldzier Cortor / July, 1948 / oil on gesso / size 27" x 38" / Chicago, ILL
Signed lower right: E. Cortor
1948, the artist. Mr. and Mrs. Richard M. Rosenwald, Beverly Hills, Calif.; by inheritance to their son, John M. Rosenwald, Beverly Hills; 1999, sold by John M. Rosenwald to Joyce Wein (1928-2005), N.Y.; 2005, estate of Joyce Wein; 2007, sold by the estate of Joyce Wein to the MFA through the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. (Accession Date: January 24, 2007)
Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund and by exchange from a Gift of Frederick L. Jack, The Hayden Collection-Charles Henry Hayden Fund, Anonymous gift in memory of Dewey D. and Anne A. Stone, Robert Jordan Fund, Gift of Mrs. Arthur Tracy Cabot, Bequest of Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow, Gift of the John and Elizabeth Crawford Collection, Bequest of Grenville H. Norcross, Gift of Mrs. William Baxter Closson in memory of William Baxter Closson, Gift of the Estate of Paul Dougherty, Zoe Oliver Sherman Collection, Bequest of Dr. Arthur Tracy Cabot, Ellen Kelleran Gardner Fund, Bequest of Mrs. Edward Jackson Holmes, Edward Jackson Holmes Collection, The Henry C. and Martha B. Angell Collection, Bequest of Miss Lucy Ellis, Gift of Amy and David Dufour, Bequest of Miss Catharine A. Barstow, and Annie Anderson Hough Fund
© Eldzier Cortor; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY