E. Charlton Fortune (1885-1969) Still life with narcissus and anemone 30 x 25in overall: 38 1/2 x 33 1/2in
Lot 27
E. Charlton Fortune
(1885-1969)
Still life with narcissus and anemone 30 x 25in overall: 38 1/2 x 33 1/2in
Sold for US$ 106,250 inc. premium

Lot Details
E. Charlton Fortune (1885-1969) Still life with narcissus and anemone 30 x 25in overall: 38 1/2 x 33 1/2in
E. Charlton Fortune (1885-1969)
Still life with narcissus and anemone
signed 'Charlton Fortune' (lower left)
oil on canvas
30 x 25in
overall: 38 1/2 x 33 1/2in

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Gertrude (née Eels) Babcock Lawson, Ross, California, and London, England.
    Thence by family descent to the present owners, England.

    E. Charlton Fortune (1885–1969) came of age during a time when women began to redefine their societal roles by pushing the boundaries of what was expected of them and challenging the status quo. Unmarried and of independent spirit, Fortune often rode her bicycle around California's Monterey Peninsula to find the perfect setting to paint in plein air. The resulting landscapes were not delicate, soft, or feminine but bold and vigorous—and often thought to have been painted by a man.

    Fortune, who went by Effie, was born in Sausalito, across the Golden Gate north of San Francisco. She studied at San Francisco's Mark Hopkins Institute of Art and then continued her training at the Art Students League in New York. She spent many of her active years painting in and around Monterey, where she maintained a home. In the 1920s, she lived and painted for extended periods in St. Ives, England, and Saint-Tropez, France. Upon her return to California in the late 1920s, she founded the Monterey Guild, directing her guild members to create art and furnishings for Catholic churches. Working first in Monterey and then Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and Kansas City, Missouri, she ultimately helped transform more than seventy church interiors in sixteen states.

    In Monterey, Fortune became best known for views of the town and its wharf, which featured architecture, people, and other elements of modern life. She was drawn to similar scenes abroad. One of her most important contributions lay in her ability to combine multiple subjects—landscape, architecture, people, boats—while many other California artists prioritized land, coast, and sea for their own sakes. Occasionally, she rendered other subjects, including figures and still lifes. Though her still lifes are rare, they too manifested her strong personality and progressive spirit. Even when painting flowers, Fortune did her best to avoid what she considered the sentimental or gratuitously pretty. Just as she was more apt to render a vegetable garden than a flower garden, when on the few occasions she depicted cut flowers in a traditional still-life format, she favored the understatement and simplicity of flowers like phlox, anemones, and daffodils, rather than the overt and voluptuous beauty of roses.

    Though Fortune's paintings are frequently labeled Impressionist, she moved beyond the style in many of them, a fact recognized even in her own time. She was careful to paint things and places that lent themselves to her aesthetic approach, her primary focus being on color and paint handling, the true subjects of her work. Her paintings were rarely quiet and subdued but instead strong in hue, frequently exploiting primary or complementary colors, and rugged in gestural execution—her paint applied with a "flying brush."1 By contrast, many other California artists of the era (and before) were reluctant to abandon either their hard-won academic skills or their adherence to topography, therefore giving clear priority to subject matter over style. Never one to be "cramped by too much attention to rigid plan," Fortune handled her medium with a fluidity that suggested ease; she was always striving for a sense of spontaneity.2

    Because Fortune's paintings were vigorous and bold, many reviewers called them masculine, attributing their success to a perceived virility—then one of the most highly regarded qualities in art, especially in California. Commentators in the West were happiest when they could bestow adjectives like powerful, vigorous, forceful, direct, and virile—especially on paintings by men, but also on those made by women. They found these qualities in strong color, boldly developed structure and composition, and confident, assured brushstrokes. Female attributes, by contrast, were delicate, soft, subtle, refined, and light of touch. The latter adjectives were almost never used in describing Fortune's work.

    Fortune garnered more male-gendered accolades than any other female artist in California. Plus, many who did not know her naturally assumed she was a man because of the way she signed her paintings, using her first initial, middle name, and last name: E. Charlton Fortune, along with shorter variations. She did so both because she disliked her first name, Euphemia, and because the lack of gender specificity helped level the playing field with those male colleagues and picture buyers reluctant to recognize or reward the work of a woman. Even in Fortune's floral still lifes, a genre often associated with women, feminine adjectives hardly apply. In this painting, Fortune not only uses the primaries of red, yellow, and blue, she incorporates a preponderance of black, a departure from her normal convention, as the darkest shade in most of her paintings is purple. Being able to paint black effectively was a skill she worked consciously to achieve. When living and working in Saint-Tropez, she set out specifically to investigate how to paint black in such a sun-drenched environment, where she found it became alive, vibrant, and full of subtleties "like the low notes of a cello."3 In this painting, Fortune animates these "low notes" with lively brushwork and rich variations of tone, simultaneously keeping the focus on her flowers while imparting the overall dynamic surface that is such a signature component of her art.

    1 Florence Wieben Lehre, "Artists and Their Work," Oakland Tribune, November 20, 1927.
    2 Marjorie C. Driscoll, "Artists and Their Work," San Francisco Chronicle, January 30, 1921.
    3 E. Charlton Fortune, "E. Charlton Fortune," handwritten document from scrapbook, facsimile in the Archives of the Oakland Museum of California, 8–9.
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