Édouard Léon Cortès was born into a family of artists and artisans in Paris, 1882. His grandfather, Andre Cortes, was famous for his work on the stained glass windows of the Cathedral of Seville and his father, Antonio Cortes, was a painter at the royal court of Spain. In this artistically conducive atmosphere, Edouard showed exceptional talent early and decided at a young age that he was destined to be a painter. He once said, “I was born from and for painting.”
In his youth, Cortes trained at his father’s studio and was also given advice and encouragement from his brother (also a painter) and other local artists. Surprisingly, before undergoing his formal education at the National French Art School in Paris, a sixteen-year old Cortes first exhibited his work at the national exhibition of the Societe des Artistes Francais in Paris, 1899. His large painting, Le Labour, was a great success and the French press lauded the young phenomenon of the French art scene.
Edouard eventually became a member of the French Artists’ Society, exhibiting his works every year as his reputation began to grow. In 1901 Cortes began his long tradition of painting different vignettes of Paris. He also painted familial interiors, landscapes, and seascapes but achieved his greatest fame through these masterly and expressive Parisian scenes. In 1915, he was awarded the Silver Medal at the Salon des Artistes Francais and the Gold Medal at the Salon des Independents. He also received numerous awards at the Salon d’Hiver during his artistic career. Because of his pacifist beliefs stemming from his direct involvement with WWI, he refused the Legion of Honor offered by the French government for his artistic success and contributions.
Cortes’ poetic Parisian scenes are imbued with nostalgia for a belle-epoque France. Even into the 1950’s Cortes often painted horse drawn omnibuses and fashions preceding 1920, commenting that, at least in his paintings, he wished to stop history in 1939 before the second World War. The window Cortes provides into this earlier period of Parisian life offers the viewer a visual history of France and a personal connection to this provocative time. David Klein has noted:
Like a lover who wants to know every aspect of his beloved, Cortes portrayed the City of Light in all its moods. His paintings of Paris depict colorful, shadowy shapes, dimly seen through rain, mist, and the softened glow of streetlights. Here are brilliant dashes of color set against the mellow grays of foggy streets, or highlighted by shafts of sunlight which contrast the shadows of alleys and corners.
In his works, Cortes also captures the theatre of Parisian streets with their vendors, gentlemen, children with nannies, and grandes duchesses, amongst other characters. He successfully merges these fascinating Parisians with well-known buildings, arrondissements, and places, thereby guiding us through Paris in a series of intimate glimpses.