Jenness Cortez, American Realist
(1944 - )
It is no longer the age of romanticism, but for one whose artistic
vision still dwells in that age, secure and undisturbed, no better home exists than the
Hudson River valley of upstate New York.
From her rural Averill Park studio situated between the foothills of the Berkshires and
the shadow of the Catskills, American painter and printmaker Jenness Cortez has, over the
past twenty years, dedicated much of her creative energy to capturing the essence of
August in Saratoga. She is a realist in approach, but her images of the sport of kings
have been filtered through "the mind's eye."
In the tradition of the nineteenth century Hudson River School painters, Jenness Cortez
exemplifies that pantheistic vision which comprehends all of nature as a manifestation of
God - fraught with high and holy meaning. Although best known for her paintings of
thoroughbred horses, she has a solid fine arts background and has painted a wide variety
of subjects for many years. Her sensitive work with the human figure is superb and her
landscapes are deeply moving representations of the phenomenal world. Yet regardless of
subject matter, all the work of Jenness Cortez exhibits the mystical ability to capture
the soul of her subjects and to communicate the awe-inspiring essence of the
moment. Even to the non-expert, Cortez appears to breathe the spirit of life into all
those images she chooses to depict.
Born in Frankfort, Indiana, Jenness Cortez began her formal art studies
at age 16 under the guidance of noted Dutch painter Antonius Raemaekers. She graduated
from the Herron School of Art in Indianapolis and attended the Art Students League of New
York. Best known for her sporting art, she is also recognized as an accomplished portrait
and landscape artist.
Capturing the subtle complexities of the sporting scene takes more than an ability to
render the painstaking likeness of a horse. It requires perceptive draftsmanship and a
mastery of composition. In the British school, this meant the likes of George Stubbs (1724
- 1806), John Frederick Herring, Sr. (1795 - 1865) and Sir Alfred Munnings (1878 1959).
Today, in America, Jenness Cortez is a highly visible representative in this tradition.
Like Alfred Munnings, Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington, Cortez had a sturdy
(four-year) apprenticeship as an editorial illustrator. Like Stubbs, she is first and
foremost an excellent draftsman. She has won international acclaim for her depiction of
man's relationship with the horse.
Following art school, her formative years were spent in Albany, New York working as an
editorial and commercial illustrator for "The Washington Park Spirit" a biweekly
In 1974, Miss Cortez was commissioned by the New York State Museum to create five
original paintings depicting rare and endangered species of the Adirondack Mountains.
These paintings are now part of the permanent collection of the museum.
In 1976, Miss Cortez was commissioned by the New York State Bicentennial Commission to
create various works of art in furtherance of the state's year-long Bicentennial
Since 1981, Miss Cortez has been commissioned to create a special original
commemorative etching honoring thoroughbred racing's Horse of the Year.
Throughout the decade of the 1980's, Miss Cortez became one or the most sought after
painters in the country. Many private individuals and corporations as well as public
institutions (from symphony orchestras to major universities) sought her talents. Her
works have been placed in numerous public and private collections including those of
former President and Mrs. Ronald W. Reagan and HRH Queen Elizabeth, II.
In advising potential buyers on the merits of old English sporting artists, Hugh
Hildesley, senior vice-president of Sotheby's one of the world's largest auction houses,
says: "It is important to know that there are two types of equestrian painters ---
those who paint only pictures of horses, and those who are equally well known for other
subjects. Generally, an investor should focus his attention on artists who transcend their
own era and are considered to be important beyond the bounds of a single specialty or
Jenness Cortez is no mere horse painter, as her landscapes, human and wildlife
portraits reveal. If Cortez' specialty has been capturing the essence of the sport of
kings, her lasting success lies in her ability to transcend the strict boundaries of
"equine" art to become a leading proponent of a new Saratoga regionalism.
Because of the unmistakable Cortez style, "A signature is hardly
necessary," wrote former Capital Newspaper executive arts editor Fred LeBrun.
distinctive illuminated highlights, use of color and a particular illustrator's hand,
speak as loudly as the little Cortez in the corner."
Judging from the enormous range and versatility of her work in painting, sculpture and
printmaking, numerous critics and art historians believe that Jenness Cortez is in the
process of creating one of the most distinguished bodies of work in American history. Her
annual exhibition of new works, therefore, presented each August in Saratoga, has become
an event of major significance.
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