Several of the leading artists associated with American Impressionism came from Cincinnati and enjoyed their first instruction in the Queen City. Most notable were John H. Twachtman, Robert F. Blum, Joseph R. DeCamp, and Edward H. Potthast. The term American Impressionism has been loosely applied to a wide spectrum of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century paintings that take modern life and landscape for their subjects. In many instances, the stylistic debt to the French Impressionist group--Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, etc.--is limited. However, American Impressionists did share several attitudes with the French artists: the desire to paint subjects from the life around them without narrative content; an emphasis on brushwork rather than line; a stress on subjective impressions of nature; and an interest in alternative ways to articulate space and light. These tendencies were not restricted to the French Impressionists, but were international impulses that changed the face of European painting in the 1870s. For Twachtman, Blum, DeCamp, and Potthast, a first encounter with many of these notions came not from France, but from the Munich avant-garde via Frank Duveneck (1848–1919).
(American Impressionism and the Queen City by Julie Aronson at antiquesandfineart.com)
Edward Henry Potthast was born to a family of artisans in Cincinnati, Ohio, on June 10, 1857. At the tender age of 12, he began studying art at Cincinnati's new McMicken School of Design and continued his studies there off and on for over a decade.
Potthast went overseas in 1881 and studied at the Royal Academy in Munich. There, he studied with the American-born instructor Carl Marr (von Marr, after 1909), who was known for his adroit handling of light and shadow in realistically rendered works. Potthast completed his European tour with a visit to Paris, where he studied at the Academie Julian for about a month before returning to Cincinnati in 1885 where he began to earn a living as a lithographer.
(Susan at redeasel.com)
Even though he enjoyed modest success in his hometown, Potthast made the decision to leave Cincinnati in 1895 and establish himself in New York City. While he went about setting up a painting studio, he fulfilled illustration commissions for the publications Scribner’s, Century, and Harper’s. He exhibited watercolors and oil paintings in exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago beginning in 1896, and at the National Academy of Design from 1897. He won the academy’s Thomas B. Clarke prize for best figure painting in 1899, the same year was he was elected an associate of the academy. Potthast was made a full academician in 1906.
The Athenaeum Virtual Art Museum
After his move to New York, Potthast made scenes of people enjoying leisurely holidays at the beach and rocky harbor views his specialty. He spent summer months in any one of a number of seaside art colonies, including Gloucester, Rockport and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, and Ogunquit and Monhegan Island, Maine. Such was his love of the beach that, when he resided in New York, he would journey out on fair days to Coney Island (above) or Far Rockaway with his easel, paintbox, and a few panels.
Potthast never married. He was an extremely private person, though he was close to his nephew and namesake, Edward Henry Potthast II (1880-1941), who also was an artist.
When not painting in Central Park or on summer trips to New England, Potthast would pack up his paints and canvases and go to the beaches of Long Island. The paintings that resulted from his Long Island forays are his signature works. His full-blown Impressionist style seems to have been released by the glare of the sun and the sand. The colors at the shore are brilliant and fresh; the shadows are filled with reflected light. The natural effect easily lent itself to an Impressionist treatment. The motion of the surf, children playing, as well as the casual poses of people on holiday demanded from the artist a quick animated brushstroke.
At the Beach
Courtesy of the Art Museum of Western Virginia
On the Beach
John B. Woodward Memorial Fund.
A July Day
Source The Athenaeum Virtual Art Museum
Blonde and Brunette
Sun and Shade
Along the Shore
At Rockaway Beach
Edward Potthast was among the best of the American Impressionist painters. Although he adopted the Impressionist style somewhat late in his career, he was nevertheless extremely popular and successful in his own lifetime. Potthast is known as a painter who celebrated the relaxed and cheerful world of the seaside holiday and summer afternoons in New York's Central Park. His paintings avoid complex emotions and instead depict happy carefree moments. Whether he shows us families playing in the surf or friends picnicking under the shade of a great tree, it is always with the sun shining and the scenery beautiful. Potthast presents this lovely world to us with a masterful flourish of brushwork that captures the essence of the day.
Deceptively casual, Afternoon Fun (above) is a calculated nature study in which Potthast has orchestrated the details of the beach, selected the viewpoint, eliminated distracting details, and enhanced key elements. The eye moves from the foreground figure group, firmly drawn as in Winslow Homer's High Tide (1870, The Metropolitan Museum of Art), to the secondary bathers at the distant shoreline, who balance the picture. A similar discipline is imposed on the color scheme: areas of white peak at the kneeling female figure and are set off by a man wearing a navy blue blazer, whose hue is echoed in a second male figure in the middle ground, and by the thin line of cold sea water in the distance. Such contrasting blocks of color became a specialty of Potthast's. The brushwork varies from the broken Impressionist strokes that highlight the lavender puddles in the sand to the more evenly coated banks of saturated blues that define the blazers, water, and wide expanse of sky. It is a hard, clear American light against which the heads and shoulders of the bathers are clustered. The intensity of the hot sunlight dyes the air above the beach; perhaps there is a slight cooling effect in the gentle winds that typically blow off Long Island Sound late in the afternoon.
Afternoon Fun is an unabashedly sentimental picture. In the main, of course, American Impressionist painters were not intent on making probing queries into the condition of man. These are the smiling realities of the American bourgeoisie early in the new century, when a rush of leisure activities seized the New York middle classes. The soft and honeyed voice of Afternoon Fun sings with style and charm. The painting radiates the vigor and confidence of life in what historians call the Age of Innocence.
(RICHARD COX at butlerart.com)
Many of Potthast’s depictions of seaside vacationers were executed on easily portable panels, as is the case with the present example, which features a female figure relaxing under a pair of umbrellas that afford her a measure of shade from the hot sun (above). Further on, a woman and a boy sit next to the water’s edge, their forms enveloped in dazzling sunlight. The viewer is instantly aware of the charming subject matter; however, upon closer inspection we become aware of the artist’s penchant for a tightly cropped, carefully articulated composition divided into simplified areas of land, sea and sky. The Shade also reveals the way Potthast could use a specific shape––in this case the parasols, one standing straight up, the other leaning on its side––to add eye-catching design elements to a painting.
As was his practice, Potthast refrains from imparting any detail to the faces of his figures, preferring to render the participants in the scene in generalized terms, focusing on matters of pose and gesture in such a way that expresses the pleasure of the activity at hand and the bonds between the people––the small boy being led by an adult towards the red umbrella, for example, and the conversation taking place between the vacationers along the shore (aspects of family life that Potthast, a bachelor, would have been highly sensitive to). In this example, the artist applies his paint in a divisionist manner, alternating between tiny, regular strokes, as in his rendering of the sky, to a broader, patch-like application of pigment, apparent in his portrayal of the foreground. Bright color, of course, played a vital role in Potthast’s shore scenes and this piece is no exception; our eye is immediately drawn to the hot pink of the central umbrella, profiled against the azure blue of the sky. Luminous pastel tonalities have been used to represent the shoreline, while the blue and purples of Impressionism denote the spots of shade that provide relief from the strong rays of the summer sun. Deft touches of white add sparkling highlights to the view, while areas of green, maroon, gold and brown enhance the overall chromatic variety of the picture.
Certainly, this delightful vignette demonstrates Potthast’s skills in translating the effects of outdoor light into paint and reveals his ability to evoke the sense of relaxation we associate with a carefree day by the water. Not surprisingly, the artist concentrated almost exclusively on beach pictures during the 1910s and 1920s, prompted by the strong market for his work and by the very pleasure he took in painting them. The decision served him well, they became “best sellers,” bringing him a steady income and critical acclaim; as one commentator, put it: “When a man paints a theme as well as Potthast paints seashore scenes, we forgive him to sticking to it to the exclusion of other subjects.”
(CL at spanierman.com)
From seeing Edward Potthast's paintings, we may be correct in assuming that his life was a happy one. He was well thought of by his friends; his achievement in painting was recognized during his lifetime and respected by his peers; and he had the good fortune to be able to work until the end of his life. On March 9, 1927 at the age of 69, he died of a heart attack in his studio. According to reports of the time, Edward H. Potthast was found surrounded by some 500 of his paintings.