Born in 1917 in Copenhagen, Erik Ortvad was a surrealist painter and a founding member of the COBRA art movement.

COBRA was a European avant-garde movement active from 1948-1951. During the time of occupation of World War II, the Netherlands had been disconnected from the art world beyond its borders. COBRA was formed shortly thereafter. This international movement of artists who worked experimentally evolved from the criticisms of Western society and a common desire to break away from existing art movements, including "detested" naturalism and "sterile" abstraction. Experimentation was the symbol of an unfettered freedom, which, according to Constant, was ultimately embodied by children and the expressions of children.

Ortvad was a refugee in Sweden during WWII because of his communist sympathies and Jewish wife. He relocated to Kvänjarp, a village in Sweden, in 1962, living there until his death in 2008.

Works by Erik Ortvad