Edward Henry Potthast painted blissful summer days spent on the beaches of New York and Atlantic Seaboard from the late 1800s to the 1920s. As one of the best American Impressionists, he captured bright sunlight, sparkling water and snapshots of joyful moments en plein air. His paintings also documented a time when advances in transportation linked cities to seashore towns, allowing the burgeoning middle class to enjoy a day away from hot city crowds, smoke-belching factories and dismal jobs.
His carefree scenes avoid complications like children fussing, parents reprimanding and even sunburned skin. Instead, he sees idyllic moments with the bad bits deleted. With his signature sunny vision of seaside adventures and family outings in Central Park, Edward Henry Potthast’s career flourished.
Potthast Mastered Impressionism Abroad
The Orlando Museum of Art wites that although Edward Henry Potthast “adopted the Impressionist style somewhat late in his career, he was nevertheless extremely popular and successful in his own lifetime.”
-Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927) was born to working class parents in Cincinnati, Ohio. His artwork was exhibited as early as age 13 and he became an apprentice in lithography while still in his teens.
-In 1882 he studied painting in Antwerp and Munich then returned home. A few years later he travelled to France where he discovered the French Impressionists. He exhibited his paintings at the Paris Salon 1889 to 1891–when Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland raced around the world.
-Potthast moved to New York around 1895 to open a studio and quickly established himself as an award-winning painter and illustrator for several popular publications. He exhibited often at the National Academy of Design as well as museums and galleries.
-In 1908 Edward Henry Potthast moved into his studio in the Gainsborough Building overlooking Central Park where he found inspiration for many paintings. Although he never married, family outings were among his favorite subjects. When he was not painting in Central Park or on summer trips to New England, he often went to the beaches of Long Island.
– By 1915 Potthast worked on beaches adjacent to New York City including Coney Island, Manhattan, Brighton, Rockaway, and even Long Beach.
Kenneth W. Maddox of Thyssen-Bornemisza Museo Nacional writes:
“While recent writers have linked Potthast’s beach scenes with the painters surrounding Robert Henri, including William Glackens and Maurice Prendergast, his closest affinity is with the Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla who painted brilliant colour-saturated scenes of the Valencian coast. He was certainly aware of, and probably attended, the sensational exhibition of Sorolla’s work held at the Hispanic Society in New York City from February until March 1909.”
A Change Of Scenery Boosted His Career
Edward Henry Potthast accepted an offer from the Santa Fe Railroad to join a few other artists on a trip to the Grand Canyon in November of 1910. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF) finished construction of the stretch of rail to the Grand Canyon in 1901. It was a glorious moment for travelers and the railway alike according to Vacations By Rail.
“The steam-powered locomotives chuffed along 65 miles of track in a direct route from Williams to the South Rim, providing passengers with comfortable seating, protection from the elements and, most importantly, fabulous views of the Grand Canyon.”
As exciting as this was, tourists were slow to book trips. ATSF, no stranger to promotional events, had famously created the Nellie Bly Special to speed Bly across country to win her race around the world in 1890.
In 1910, they brainstormed an advertising campaign to be illustrated by popular artists who could entice tourists to the Grand Canyon. Among the artists traveling with Potthast was Thomas Moran who had experienced tremendous success when he joined the Hayden Expedition to paint Yellowstone in 1871. Moran’s career took off with the success of his landscapes. Whether Potthast was looking for artistic inspiration through a change of scenery or needed a financial boost, the result was a surge of popularity.
On March 9, 1927 Edward Henry Potthast died suddenly of a heart attack. His body was found beside an easel in his New York City studio, surrounded by works in various stages of progress.
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