Saturday, July 13, 2013

Great Cincinnati Artists: Edward Henry Potthast

Edward H. Potthast (1857-1927).  Self-portrait.  (ca. 1890)  Oil on canvas.

Dear George,
For anybody in our area who wants their spirits brightened up, I’d recommend a trip to the Cincinnati Art Museum to see the current exhibition by Edward Henry Potthast.  I’d been familiar with Potthast for some time because several of his paintings are on permanent exhibition in the museum’s Cincinnati wing, but this show was much more full-scale.  Potthast is an American Impressionist, best known for his beach scenes of children, families, and surf on the Long Island shore.  Our art museum owns 35 of his works, and the curator borrowed extensively from many other sources as well.  The show’s ninety plus works include oils, watercolors, prints, and drawings.  While his famous beach paintings are at the center, the show covers Potthast’s full range of subjects, e.g., figure studies, European peasants, landscapes, parks, fishermen. 

Dutch interior.  (1894)  Oil on canvas. 

Potthast was born on June 10, 1857, to German immigrant parents in a family of artisans in Cincinnati.  As a 12-year-old he became a charter student at the new McMicken School of Design where he studied for the next decade.   He then studied at the Cincinnati Art Academy from 1879 to 1881 with Thomas Satterwhite Noble, a prominent portrait and figure painter.  After a period at the Royal Academy in Munich, he returned to Cincinnati in 1885 to continue his work with Noble.  He then moved to Paris in 1886, where the influence of landscape painters at the Grèz colony led to his complete conversion to Impressionism, reflected in his free brushstrokes, vivid colors, and use of outdoor light.

Wood interior.  (1895)  Oil on canvas.  

Potthast returned to New York City in 1896.  He worked as a magazine illustrator after his arrival in New York and exhibited regularly in major venues in the city.  He eventually established a studio in the Gainsborough Building at 220 Central Park South in Manhattan, painting images of Central Park, New England landscapes, and beach scenes on Long Island.  Beach scenes were his first love, and he spent summers at art colonies in Massachusetts and Maine as well as regularly visiting Coney Island and Far Rockaway.  A very private person, Potthast never married.  He died alone in his studio on March 9, 1927. His works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum, the Chicago Art Institute, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the New York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of the National Academy of Design, and many other institutions across the country.  Below are some of my favorite beach paintings from the show, all from our art museum’s collection.  The images are so alive you can virtually see the bathers in motion. 

Beach scene with lavender sky.  (ca. 1920)  Oil on board. 

Surf bathing.  (ca. 1924)  Oil on board.  

Brother and sister.  (ca. 1915)  Oil on canvas.  

Long Beach.  (ca. 1922)  Oil on canvas.  

Playmates.  (ca. 1918)  Oil on canvas.  

A Sailing Party.  (ca. 1924)  Oil on canvas 

Sources:, (“’Eternal Summer: The Art of Edward Henry Potthast’ opens at the Cincinnati Art Museum,” June 13, 2013); (“Potthast popular again,” June 3, 2013); (“Edward Henry Potthast: The Complete Works”); (“Edward Henry Potthast: Biograph”); (“Edward Henry Potthast”)

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