E. Charlton Fortune

E. Charlton Fortune

E. Charlton Fortune (1885 - 1969) was a famous California artist within the style of Impressionism. Taught by William Merritt Chase and Arthur Frank Mathews, she achieved international fame for her paintings. Later in life she turned to liturgical design, receiving further recognition in this second genre.

Early years

Fortune was born in Sausalito, Marin County, California. Her father was a Scot, William Ranken Fortune, and her mother was a native of San Francisco, Helen Hersberg. She eschewed her given name Euphemia, and initially selected the nickname Effie. Having a cleft palate, as did her father, Effie resolved to remain celibate, lest the trait be passed on. Her family was well to do financially and gave her a life of European travel from early on. By age four she was practiced in formal etiquette and clever intellectual conversation followed soon. She regularly visited her father's original home in Barnsmuir, Scotland.

When she was age nine, her father died; tragically, she was sent to boarding school in Scotland, while her mother and brother moved to Los Angeles. She spent six sad years attending Saint Margaret's Convent; however, after a while her Scottish aunts commissioned a denture to be made to help conceal her cleft palate, improving her appearance and state of mind.

Return to Northern California

Fortune was reunited with her mother and brother when they all moved to San Francisco in the year 1900. She began art studies at the Mark Hopkins Institute, then directed by Arthur Frank Mathews. She became integrated into the fabric of the thriving San Francisco art community and fraternized with Armin Hansen, Maynard Dixon, Maurice Logan and others. Fortune began signing her paintings "Charlton", which mddle name was from her grandmother. In 1905 she was enrolled in the Saint John's Wood School of Art in London.

Life in New York

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake wrought great loss on the Fortune family, including destruction of all of her paintings. The family then decided to relocate to New York City, where she commenced studies at the Art Students League. Frank Vincent DuMond was a favorite teacher from whom she learned the importance of expressing her own individuality; from the South American Luis Mora she learned the skills of an illustrator. Fortune often painted at Lake George with DuMond. As she sought out further outdoor venues, she was invited by Spencer Trask to paint at Woodstock in the Catskill Mountains. She was elected women's vice president of the Art Student's League and contributed some illustrations to "Harpers Magazine".

1910 return to San Francisco

Fortune and her mother re-emerged in San Francisco; moreover, through the help of Luis Mora, Effie gained a position at "Sunset Magazine" doing illustration. Also in 1910 she travelled to Scotland and to Paris. On that trip she was taken by the 19th century French Impressionism and the more current Cubism. Nonetheless, her own painting continued true to her own style of using light, continuous line and movement. Back in San Francisco, she now had over forty paintings, and immersed herself in portraiture, with an emphasis on child subjects. An example of her work in this era is "Portrait of a Young Lady" (1919). In 1913 and for the following six summers, Effie and her mother vacationed in Monterey. 1914 was the year she attracted William Merritt Chase to Monterey to view her work and give her lessons. That summer she painted "Summer", which is now in the permanent collection of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. Between 1916 and 1920 she taught art classes, but without distinguishing herself in the role of instructor.

During World War I she did volunteer work for the American Red Cross, and, in general, she was a well known eccentric personality flitting between San Francisco and Monterey. She was often seen riding her bicycle donned in a corduroy suit and Belgian shoes with shiny buckles; eventually she procured a motor vehicle, which she nicknamed "Blasphemia". In 1920 Fortune was elected to the National Academy of Design.

Europe and then back to Monterey

Fortune, continuing to travel with her mother, visited Europe for the next six years. She had an acclaimed exhibition at the Beaux Arts Gallery. Among her paintings of this period was "Saint Tropez", produced in 1926. After early 1927 she had chosen Monterey for her home. This decision marked the beginning of her liturgical art career. Fortune produced many religious art compositions, but one hallmark was the painted interior of Saint Angelas Church in Pacific Grove. For the last 25 years of her life, liturgical art was Fortune's focus; she became a leader of the Monterey Guild who produced high quality religious art in numerous churches. Beginning in 1927, Fortune was active in the Carmel Art Association. "Angel Rescuing Saint Peter" (1947) is an example of her later work. Fortune served as artist-in-residence at Portsmouth Priory (now Portsmouth Abbey School) in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, from 1947-48 and designed the tabernacle that now resides in the Abbey's Church of St. Gregory the Great.

Permanent collections

E. Charlton fortune is in the permanent collections of the following museums:

* California Palace of the Legion of Honor, (San Francisco Fine Art Museum)
* Monterey Museum of Art, Monterey, California


* Jo Farb Hernandez, "Colors and Impressions: The Early Work of E. Charlton Fortune", Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art (1990)
* "E. Charlton Fortune, Historical Exhibition", introduction by William H.Gerdts, Carmel Art Association, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California (2001)
* "Plein Air Painters of California: The North", Westphal Publishing

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