Cordier was born in Cambrai. In 1847, a meeting with Seïd Enkess, a former black slave who had become a model, determined the course of his career.
His first success was a bust in plaster of a Sudanese man “Saïd Abdullah of the Mayac, Kingdom of the Darfur” (Sudan). This was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, the same year that slavery was abolished in all French colonies. It is now housed at the The Walters Art Museum.
In 1851, Queen Victoria bought a bronze of it at the Great Exhibition of London. From 1851 to 1866, he served as the official sculptor of Paris’s National History Museum, creating a series of spectacularly lifelike busts for their new ethnographic gallery (now housed in the Musee de l’Homme, Paris).
Cordier took part in the great works commissioned by the Second French Empire (Paris Opera, Musée du Louvre, the Hôtel de Ville) or by private interests such as Baron de Rothchild. He died in Algeria.