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Thursday, February 20, 2014

E. Charlton Fortune

Grounds of the Panama-Pacific Exposition, 1915, E. Charlton Fortune
Effie Charlton Fortune
If I could pose an ideal lifestyle for myself...or perhaps any would be to continually travel the world over, painting and photographing the great beauty and unique people, places, and things I encountered. All of which I would ship back to major art galleries for sale at outrageous prices and worldwide acclaim. Of course, in suggesting such a scenario the first words coming to mind are, "yeah, dream on." Few artists ever rise to that level of proficiency, prestige, or professionalism. Fewer still such artists are women, and fewer still were women able to do so during the first half of the 20th century. E. Charlton Fortune was a woman, a proficient professional, and she could travel, at will almost, to some of the most beautiful places in the world to paint. Miss Fortune was, indeed, fortunate. Of course, the Fortune "fortune" didn't hurt.

Summer Idyll, E. Charlton Fortune
Euphemia Charlton Fortune was born in Sausalito, California, in 1885. Though her family wouldn't be considered wealthy, they were comfortably well-to-do. Despite her circumstances, Euphemia was not as fortunate as might be expected. First of all she hated her given name, eventually settling on the nickname, "Effie." Second, like her father, she was born with a cleft palate, a trait she vowed not to pass on to her offspring. Thus, she never married, never had children. Third, her father died when she was nine. Consequently, she was sent to a Catholic convent in her father's native Scotland to complete her education. There, two of her father's sisters arranged for the making of a denture plate to conceal her deformity.
Above the Bay, 1918, (probably Monterrey), E. Charlton Fortune

In 1900, at the age of fifteen, Effie Fortune returned to the U.S., settling with her mother and brother in San Francisco where she first began studying art at the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art. Then, at the age of twenty, she moved back to England to study at St John's Wood School of Art in London. Once more, Effie Fortune was fortunate...her family...not so much. 1906 was a bad year to be living in San Francisco. On April 18th, 5:12 a.m., the great San Francisco earthquake struck. Like much of the city, the Fortune home burned to the ground; and with it went virtually all of Effie Fortune's paintings.

Portrait of a Young Girl,
E. Charlton Fortune

Pool, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, Court of the Four Seasons,
ca 1915, E. Charlton Fortune
Portrait of James Walsh,
E. Charlton Fortune
After continuing her studies in Europe and later New York, Effie returned to San Francisco in 1910 to become a working girl, taking a position as an artist for Sunset magazine (which is still published today). Her family financial situation allowed her to travel freely around the country, painting, and studying with some of the best Impressionist artists working at the time, including the illustrious William Merritt Chase. Though her European jaunts over the next two decades allowed her exposure to Cubism, and all the other turbulent "isms" swirling about the art world at the time, Effie's loose, painterly style of Impressionism changed little over her lifetime, even when the California art world began to see her work as old-fashioned and lacking in social relevance. Her work was called by one critic, "too beautiful." Effie and her mother often spent time in nearby Monterrey; and her vibrantly colored images of this visually rich locale are, indeed, beautiful. During the 1920s, Effie Fortune chose to devote much of her time and attention to portraits such as her Portrait of a Young Girl and the Portrait of James Walsh (above, left).
Vieux Port San Tropez, 1926, E. Charlton Fortune--too beautiful?
Church Interior, E. Charlton Fortune
With the 1930s, Regionalism and Realism were the dominating hallmarks of American painting, and none of Effie Fortune's art could remotely be described as either. Effie seemed not to care. Fortunate not to be burdened financially with the need to sell, she could paint what, where, and most of all, how she liked. After the war, she turned her attention to religious works, in a series of framed murals depicting the Seven Sorrows of Mary, an important liturgical commission completed in 1953 for the Saint Angelas Church in Pacific Grove, California. Always something of a headstrong eccentric, well into her 70s, Effie's could often be seen traveling about San Francisco and the Carmel area in her corduroy suit riding a bicycle. She died in 1969 at the age of eighty-four. By then, she'd reluctantly succumbed to driving her own automobile, which she dubbed, "Blasphemia."

The Loss of the Holy Child, 1953, E. Charlton Fortune,
from the Seven Sorrows of Mary series.


  1. Dear Mr Lane, you may be interested to know that the work titled "Portrait of a Young Girl" is a drawing of my mother, Susan Lumsden. The Lumsden and Fortune families are related through the marriage in 1884 of James David Lumsden and Susan Ann Ranken Fortune at Kilrenny, Fife. Regards, David (Fortune) Sangster.

  2. David--

    Thanks for your comment. I hope you found the information regarding your family helpful and accurate.--Jim