E. Charlton Fortune – Monterey’s Impressionist

7 Jun

Fortune Painted the Grounds of the Panama-Pacific Exposition

E. Charlton Fortune

by Jeffrey Morseburg

Euphemia Charlton Fortune’s work may be the most sought after of all the California Impressionists because of the rarity and quality of her works.  Because she was a devout Catholic and devoted much of her life to ecclesiastical art, only a handful of works of significant size exist and a number of those are in public collections, leaving precious few for the market.   Fortune is known for her sun-splashed depictions of the California coastal towns of Carmel and Monterey.

She was born in the San Francisco Bay town of Sausalito, so her appreciation for the coastal towns and the water came from a childhood spent on and around the ocean.  Because “Effie” as she was nicknamed was born with the unsightly deformity of a cleft palette and all the difficulty that this impairment must have entailed, she was spurred to develop other qualities.  Her father died when she was young and she and her mother and brother moved south to Los Angeles for a time before she was sent to her father’s native Scotland to attend a St. Margaret’s Convent, a Catholic girl’s school in Edinburgh.   Fortune had a difficult time in Scotland, but her visits to the nearby National Gallery of Scotland heightened her interest in art and when she came back to the states, she was determined to study painting.

She studied at the Mark Hopkins Institute under Arthur Matthews.  All of her early work was lost in the earthquake and subsequent fire of 1906.   Afterward, Fortune and her widowed mother traveled east so that she could study at the Art Students League in New York where she learned from Francis Luis Mora, Frank Vincent Dumond and William Merritt Chase.  After a European tour, where she became conversant with the new modern movements that were sweeping Europe, she returned to San Francisco in 1910 and took a job as an illustrator with Sunset Magazine.  As she matured artistically, she and her mother began spending summers in Monterey, where she painted the town and coast, often from a high vantage point she could ride her bicycle to.  By 1920 Fortune was elected to membership in the prestigious National Academy of Design.  After a lengthy sojourn in Europe, from 1921 to 1927, she returned to exhibit her work at the Beaux Arts Gallery and the Oakland Gallery.

As she aged, she found the impressionist style she favored was becoming outdated as critics and younger artists favored either “realism” that accentuated the social conditions of the time or the even more modern “isms” that were changing the art world.  But instead of changing her art to suit others, Fortune retreated to the ecclesiastical world and her leadership in championing liturgical for California’s Catholic Parishes art saw her honored by the Catholic Church late in her life.  Copyright 2008-2010, Jeffrey Morseburg, not to be reproduced without the specific written permission of the author.

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