E. Charlton Fortune: Artist Extraordinaire

To see the paintings created by Euphemia Charlton Fortune you would never suspect the personal hardships she suffered. She was a member of the Carmel-by-the-Bay art community- the first time in her early 20s following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and then later for the last 9 years of her life, dying in Carmel in 1969 at aged 84. Her paintings are alive with the most glorious colours and movement as illustrated below in Picking Apples (Above the Town) painted about 1920.

Euphemia Charlton Fortune was born in Sausalito , California in 1885. Her father was a Scot and her mother a native of San Francisco. Her father died at 37 from pulmonary disease. In 1898 one of Fortune’s Scottish aunts visited the family, and Fortune travelled with the aunt back to Scotland, where she lived for the next six years. Effie (as she was known) had been born with a cleft palate (inherited from her father) and vowed never to marry so that she could not pass on the impairment to her children. It is reported that her Scottish aunts obtained dentures for her that mitigated the cleft palate. She graduated from St. Margaret’s Convent, Edinburgh in 1904 and then spent a year studying St. John’s Wood School of Art in London. I did locate this wonderful photo of Effie at work in her studio in Portsmouth Priory, Rhode Island, much later in about 1950.
(Credit: crockerart.org Photograph courtesy of James R. Fortune.)

Effie Fortune was obviously driven by a desire to create in spite of her parents discouraging her as they did not understand her artistic passion. She returned to San Francisco in 1905 to join her mother and brother and enrolled in the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art (a forerunner of the San Francisco Art Institute), where she studied under Arthur Mathews (1860-1945), an American Tonalist painter and one of the founders of the American Arts and Crafts Movement who in turn had been influenced by non other than James Abbott McNeill Whistler whom I haven’t mentioned for a while. This Summer Landscape painted by E. Charlton Fortune in 1914 shows the influence of Mathews who emphasized the use of a limited palate to create a unified painting...(and) stressed that nature was the most important source of artistic inspiration. (bonhams.com) This painting won a silver medal at the Panama-California Exposition of San Diego in 1915.

(Credit: bonhams.com)

In terms of her painting technique you can see Fortune’s attention being given to the effect of light and shadow across her limited palette of green and white tones. The white fence and path act as strong diagonals which lead the viewer’s eye to the woman on the bridge, highlighted by the sun and encompassed by the green tonal surrounds.

Sadly Effie Fortune lost all of her paintings done before 1906 when her home was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake. Following this disaster she first moved with her family to Stockton, then Carmel-by-the-Sea and then to New York. Fortune enrolled in the Arts Students League and became the women's vice president. Here she was tutored by Frank Vincent DuMond and William Merritt Chase. Both of these artists encouraged her to paint outdoors with a particular attention to light and atmosphere as exemplified in this wonderful squabble of seagulls appropriately named Scavengers, St Ives.
(Collection of Marie & Murray Demo Photo PMCA)

Effie was also taught by the South American Francis Luis Mora from whom she learned the skills of an illustrator. F. Luis Mora was the brother of Jo Mora who created the Serra Memorial Cenotaph for Father Junípero Serra in the Carmel Mission shown in yesterday’s blog. I believe Effie contributed some illustrations to Harpers Magazine though I have not able to locate any examples. In 1910-1911 she visited Scotland, England and France where she had two exhibitions: Royal Academy in Edinburgh exhibited 27 of her paintings in 1911, followed by another exhibition at the Liverpool Art Gallery in London. She returned to live in San Francisco in 1912, where she set up a studio, mounted an exhibition of her paintings, and began specialising in portraits. (art.famsf.org) In both of the portraits I found you can see her skill as an illustrator. The first is Portrait of a Young Lady.
(Crtedit: artnet.com)

And this is a Portrait of James Walsh.
(Crtedit: artnet.com)

The following year Fortune established a second studio in Monterey, where she spent summers until 1921. During her life she exhibited extensively and won several awards. Of interest to us is that in 1922 she went to live in St Ives Cornwall. Many months ago we looked at some of the painters who were fascinated by St Ives including Mr Turner, Mr Whistler and Mr Sickert. Below is Fortune's painting of St Ives Harbour.

Following her stay in Cornwall she then moved to St. Tropez in the French Riviera in 1923 where this wonderful painting (Drying the Sails, St Tropez) was created.
(Credit: Pasadena Museum of California Art)

She received a silver medal at the Parisian Salon des Artistes Français in 1924 for Summer Morning, St. Ives, 1923.
(Credit: Mountain Democrat)

I have just discovered The Pier, Late Afternoon Monterey painted in 1914 so an early example of Effie Fortune's work. Note the strong use of light touching the pilings on the pier; and a very clever composition, I might add.
(Credit:Bodega Bay Heritage Gallery)

This one is titled Above the Town.
(Credit: Crocker Art Museum)


There is so much to say about this American Impressionist but once more I have run out of time. I do hope you have enjoyed seeing her wonderful colourful images. E. Charlton Fortune devoted the second half of her career to liturgical art and founded the Monterey Guild, which decorated some thirty Roman Catholic churches across America.

Postscript 1: She signed her paintings E. Charlton Fortune, not because she didn't like her first name Euphemia but to help conceal her gender.

Postscript 2: A Fortune painting sold at auction in April 2014 for $365,000. Wikiedia

The Hero Image today is of Monterey Bay, California.

I am having a break for a couple of days so that I can choose the right horse for the Melbourne Cup. We are the only country in the world I believe where the whole nation stops to watch a horse race!! Of course if my horse wins I'm off to St Ives, Cornwall to paint.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Subscribe to Anne Newman Artist

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!