E. Charlton Fortune Biography

Biography from AskART:

A pioneer female artist in a world basically reserved for men, she was an independent, dedicated professional woman in early 20th-century California. After her death, her reputation diminished, but the quality of her landscapes, interiors, figures, and murals has been rediscovered in the second half of the century.

She was born in Sausalito, across the Bay north from San Francisco to a Scottish father, William Ranken Fortune, and a mother, Helen Hersberg, who was a native of San Francisco. She did not like her given name of Euphemia, and came to be known to friends as "Effie" and usually signed her paintings "Charlton," the family name of her grandmother. From her father she inherited a cleft palette, which was a prominent deformity, and it is thought that her being told she would pass this onto her children figured prominently in her decision never to marry.

In her childhood, she was much influenced by her visits to Barnsmuir, her father's home in Scotland, where she from the age of four learned 19th century etiquette, the security of having financial resources, and Victorian sharp repartee in conversation. However, later when she struck out as an artist in "bohemia," her family had trouble understanding her desire.

In 1894, the father died, and several years later "Effie" and her mother and brother moved to Los Angeles, but she was sent back to Scotland where she attended St Margaret's Convent, a Roman Catholic girls' school for six years. She suffered the torments of being made fun of because of her cleft palette and was terribly homesick, but her Scottish aunts took her to a dentist who made her beautifully fashioned dentures and a much improved face. In Scotland, she had much exposure to art at the National Gallery in Edinburgh.

Returning to California, she moved back to San Francisco with her mother and brother, and Effie studied at the Mark Hopkins Institute with Arthur Mathews, whom she admired for his emphasis on beauty and dignity in painting. She became very much a part of the local art scene and fraternized with many men who became well known artists including Armin Hansen, Maynard Dixon, and Maurice Logan.

She and her family suffered severe property devastation in the earthquake of 1906, and all of her work to that point was lost. Afterward, she and her family moved to New York City, where she studied at the Art Student's League. Her favorite teacher was Frank Vincent DuMond, who emphasized using one's own style to express oneself clearly. Another favorite was Luis Mora, a brilliant painter and illustrator from South America, who saw to it that she had the qualities of a good illustrator.

She painted at Woodstock in the Catskill Mountains at the invitation of Spencer Trask, and at Lake George with Frank DuMond and other students and was much accepted by the respected professional artists. She was elected women's vice-president of the Art Students' League and also did a few illustrations for "Harper's" magazine.

Gradually she began to develop a unique style of skillfully using light, movement, and continuous lines to achieve her own aesthetic expression.

In 1910, she and her mother returned to San Francisco where Luis Mora had used his influence to get Effie a job illustrating for "Sunset Magazine," but first she visited family in Scotland and toured Paris to see firsthand the 19th century French masters. She became immersed in the modernist movements of Impressionism and Cubism, etc., but was more convinced than ever that the style she was calling her own was best for her. She returned to San Francisco with over forty paintings accomplished. There she also did many portraits, and was especially skillful at depicting children.

In 1913, she and her mother spent the summer in Monterey, something they did for many succeeding summers excepting the six years they spent in Europe from 1921 to 1927. A special event for them was the 1914 visit of William Merritt Chase, for which she took credit but some thought unjustified. Between 1916 and 1920, she conducted her own workshops in Monterey, but she was not a popular teacher because she had trouble explaining her theories concisely and presenting her lessons in an organized way.

Alternating between living in San Francisco and Monterey, she had a reputation as a highly unique individual in both places. She often wore a tan corduroy suit and Belgian shoes with shining buckles and habitually rode a bicycle on which she transported her painting supplies in a special carrier. Later she bought an automobile which she named the "Blasphemia," and she was reportedly a frightful driver. She was active in the Red Cross during the War but did not slacken her painting output which included many coastal landscapes and town views.

In 1920, she was elected to the National Academy of Design. After the lengthy trip abroad, she basically settled in Monterey which she loved for the outdoor painting views and the inexpensive living. In 1927, an exhibition of her work was held at the Beaux Arts Gallery and was acclaimed, but when shown at the Oakland Gallery, the works were criticized for being too beautiful and not focusing on social realities.

From that time her work was controversial and some thought hopelessly outdated, but she continued to have a strong following. She spent her last years doing religious paintings which included decorating the interior of St. Angela's church at Pacific Grove. She became a leader of a Monterey group that crusaded for sane liturgical art, a mission a bringing eternal beauty to everyday people that she pursued for the the last twenty five years of her life and took it all the way to the East Coast.