Karl Eugene Fortess Biography

Karl Eugene Fortess




Karl Eugene Fortess, painter, printmaker and teacher, was born in Antwerp, Belgium on 13 October 1907. He arrived in the United States in 1915 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1923. Fortess studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York, and the Woodstock School of Painting with Yasuo Kuniyoshi. During the Depression, Fortess worked in the painting division of the Federal Art Project WPA. In 1937, the Works Progress Administration sent him and other artists to Alaska to document the towns, villages, and remote wilderness landscapes.

Fortess taught at the Art Students League, Brooklyn Museum Art School, Louisiana State University, Fort Wright College, and Boston University School of Fine and Applied Arts. He was a member of the Artists Equity Association, the Society of American Graphic Artists, the American Association of University Professors, and the British Film Institute. Fortess was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946, was named an Associate of the National Academy of Design in 1960 and elected to full Academician in 1971.

Fortess’ work was included two exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, New York: New Horizons in American Art in 1936 and Recent American Prints 1947-1953, in 1953. His work was also exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum, New York; the Woodstock Artists Association, New York; and the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburg. He is represented in the collections of the Butler Institute of American Art; the Brooklyn Museum, New York; the Dallas Museum of Art; De Cordova Museum, Lincoln, Massachusetts; the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; the Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University, Manhattan Beach; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Syracuse University Art Collection; the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; the Wichita Art Museum, Kansas; and the Woodstock Artists Association and Museum, New York. 

Karl Eugene Fortess died in Woodstock, New York on 8 July 1993.

Besides Fortess’ artwork and teaching, another of his legacies is the 268 oral interviews with painters, sculptors, and printmakers recorded between 1963 and 1985. According to the Smithsonian, Fortess conducted seventy-nine of the interviews as a pilot for and as a part of a grant from the Office of Education, U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare at Boston’s University’s School of Applied Arts. He continued interviewing artists upon completion of the grant, including many with artists associated with the Woodstock, New York art community.