E. Charlton Fortune: The Colorful Spirit

One of California’s most trailblazing artists, E. Charlton Fortune (1885–1969) had a thriving career as a painter until the age of forty-three, when she began a pioneering new vocation in liturgical art. E. Charlton Fortune: The Colorful Spirit pairs the artist’s Impressionist and modernist landscapes with her ecclesiastical paintings, sculptures, furnishings, and other designs produced for the Catholic Church.

Though her paintings are frequently labeled Impressionist, Fortune’s work moved beyond the style, a fact well recognized in her own time. Rather than focusing on nature for its own sake, she emphasized humanity’s impact on the land and was best known for colorful landscapes featuring architecture, figures, and elements of modern life. These works were strong in color—frequently rendered in primary or complementary hues—and rugged and gestural in execution. Because of this, some reviewers and critics thought she was a man. Many also described her paintings as “masculine,” attributing their success to a perceived virility—then one of the most highly regarded qualities in art.

Starting in 1928, Fortune’s disenchantment with mass-produced ecclesiastical art led her to create designs of her own and then found the Monterey Guild, a group of skilled craftspeople who, under her direction, created original, modern artworks for churches. Fortune’s religious artwork blends her signature style with a respect for the liturgy and, in particular, the aesthetics of European churches that inspired her during her time abroad.

E. Charlton Fortune: The Colorful Spirit illuminates this formidable artist’s contributions both to early California painting and American liturgical design through approximately eighty works.

E. Charlton Fortune: The Colorful Spirit is organized by the PMCA and curated by California art scholar and Crocker Art Museum’s Associate Director and Chief Curator, Scott A. Shields, PhD. A 240-page, fully illustrated catalogue featuring scholarly essays by Shields and by Julianne Burton-Carvajal, PhD, accompanies the exhibition. Following its debut at the PMCA, the exhibition will travel to the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento and the Monterey Museum of Art. The exhibition is supported by the PMCA Board of Directors, PMCA Ambassador Circle, John and Patricia Dilks, and William C. Georges.