Fortuny was born on 11 May 1871, to an artistic family in Granada, Spain. His father, a genre painter, died when Fortuny was three years old and his mother, daughter of another painter, Raimundo de Madrazo y Garreta, moved the family to Paris, France. It was apparent at a young age that Fortuny was a gifted artist, showing a talent for painting as well as a passion for textiles. During his childhood he was introduced to many different textiles and fabrics, which greatly imprinted upon his creativity. His parents were passionate for materials and had their own collections of textiles from various shops they had visited in Europe. His father also collected metalwork and armour from previous ages as a hobby. As a young child he was fascinated with all of these textiles and would dye pieces of material for amusement. It was this exposure that led him to designing and producing his own textiles and dresses. The family moved again in 1889 to Venice, Italy. As a young man, Fortuny travelled throughout Europe seeking out artists he admired, among them the German composer Richard Wagner. Fortuny became quite varied in his talents, some of them including inventing, painting, photography, sculpting, architecture, etching and theatrical stage lighting. In 1897, he met the woman he would marry, Henriette Negrin, in Paris. While in Paris Fortuny registered and patented more than 20 inventions between 1901 and 1934.
He died in his home in Venice and was buried in the Campo Verano in Rome. His work was a source of inspiration to the French novelist Marcel Proust