Edward Henry Potthast has been remembered mostly for the beach scenes and the atmosphere of carefree ideals that he created.
He was an American, born in 1857 (Bio, 2005). He passed away in 1927, but not before leaving his mark on the artistic world (Bio, 2005). He was generally considered to be one of the most significant American artists within the 19th-century and he came from Cincinnati which was growing as an arts center very rapidly at the time of Potthast's birth (Bio, 2005). Cincinnati was often also judged to be a good refuge for immigrants from Germany, and this included the Potthast family.
He began his study at the McMicken School of Design and also at the Cincinnati Academy (Bio, 2005). After that he went briefly to Europe and then became an illustrator and lithographer back in Cincinnati. He moved to New York City in 1892 and one the Clarke Prize at the national Academy, as well as winning many other honors (Bio, 2005). He was part of the sponsored trip by the Santa Fe railroad in 1910, and he went to the Grand Canyon (Bio, 2005). He and the group of individuals that he traveled with spent ten days along the South rim of the Grand Canyon, painting.
He found his experience to be extremely stimulating and he returned several times to the west, developing a particular style of painting for night scenes. Primarily he worked in New York City after he moved there, but he was also extensively in Europe in 1912 and enrolled in academies in Munich, Antwerp, and Paris (Bio, 2005). He illustrated for Scribner's and Harpers magazines and divided his time between the two of them but later on he became a full-time artist and gave up the illustration business (Bio, 2005). He literally died at his easel and was judged by all who knew him to be an intensely private person (Bio, 2005).
Many people judged Potthast to be among the best of American painters when it came to Impressionism.
Impressionism is a very spontaneous and light manner of painting, and it originated in France as a counterbalance to the Academic style that was seen there (Artists, 2005). Potthast did not adopt this impressionistic style until later on in his career but he was very successful and very popular within his own lifetime. He was generally known as a painter who celebrated what was cheerful and relaxed about the world and he generally also celebrated summer afternoons in areas such as New York's Central Park and seaside holidays. He showed a talent for art at a very young age and was working as an apprentice with a lithographic firm in Cincinnati by the time he was 16 (Roughton, 2004).
He supported himself as a lithographer for quite some time and did not make the move to New York City mentioned above until he was 39 years old (Roughton, 2004). At that time he began his career as a painter full-time. When he was working as lithographer, he was also studying painting. He attended many different night classes at a local academy but the trips that he made to Europe were probably the most significant when it came to the training that he received (Roughton, 2004).
This is especially true of the trip to Munich, Germany where he studied for three years. The school in Munich was extremely popular with artists from the Cincinnati area because that particular area of the state of Ohio was settled generally by immigrants from Germany (Roughton, 2004). The style of art that the Munich school had was generally characterized by very bold use of lights and darks, and subdued color (Roughton, 2004). Many of those particular qualities were seen in part to guide him for quite some time until he located his own impressionistic style. When Potthast went to Europe the second time he went originally to Munich and then went to Paris, before he settled in Barbizon (Roughton, 2004).
After his time spent there he returned to Cincinnati and went back to being a lithographer. He had a lot of respect and encouragement within the community for his artwork, however, and one of the paintings that he created was purchased by the Museum of Art in Cincinnati (Roughton, 2004). Many believe that this was a turning point in Potthast's life and actually what pushed him to look at being an artist full-time. It wasn't until 1895 that he opened the studio in New York City (Roughton, 2004). When he arrived there he worked as a freelance illustrator but he was established within the art world in New York within only a few years and no longer needed to work as an illustrator.
He went to annual exhibitions, won many prizes, belonged to many art associations, and generally moved in the groups of people that dealt with art as a living. He overlooked Central Park from his studio by 1908 and he found this location to be ideal because he enjoyed the activity that was seen in the Park, the children playing, and the family outings that he often noticed there (Roughton, 2004). He saw this as one of his most favorite subjects and he revisited that subject over and over again. This will be discussed further momentarily in looking at the paintings that Potthast created.
When he was not visiting new England in the summer or painting in Central Park he would generally go to Long Island to the beach (Roughton, 2004). Many of the paintings that resulted from going to Long Island are the mainstay of his work (Roughton, 2004). The colors that are seen in these paintings are very fresh and brilliant and the shadows have a lot of reflected light (Roughton, 2004). The Impressionist ideal went very easily with natural effects such as the sun and the sand and Potthast had to be quick with his brush stroke to catch many of the individuals in what they were doing (Roughton, 2004).
It looked as though Potthast had a happy life based on the paintings that he created. His friends also thought highly of him and the recognition that he achieved during his life span was very respectable (Roughton, 2004). He also worked right up until the end of his life which came on the ninth of March in 1927 (Roughton, 2004). Potthast was 69 years old and working in his studio when he died of a heart attack (Roughton, 2004). Some of the reports at that time indicate that Potthast was surrounded by over 500 of his various paintings (Roughton, 2004).
Comparison of His Paintings
It is important to understand the man and what he did but it is also important to understand his paintings. Discussed here will be three of Potthast's paintings: "In the Park," "Children at the Sea Shore," and "Afternoon Fun." All three of these paintings, as most of Potthast's other work, were done in the Impressionist style (Cox, 2005). What is also important to note about these three paintings is that they generally have the same theme. Whether Pottthast is just painting children or adults, or some combination of the two, most of his interest lied in catching individuals in casual poses enjoying themselves.
This is part of the reason that many people who study Potthast believe that his life was quite happy.
Overall, people that are depressed or angry do not paint happy pictures of joyful people enjoying their time with each other. This does not necessarily mean that Potthast never had any trials and tribulations, as most artists struggle with various problems throughout their careers. Either they are misunderstood, they are creating something that has no demand at the time, or they have other concerns or issues with which they must deal. For Potthast, however, it seems as though the paintings that he created, especially these three, all speak toward enjoyment of simple pleasures.
Most people have forgotten in this day and age the simple pleasures of spending time with family in the park or at the seashore, and a lot of people do not get the opportunity to do that kind of thing anymore because they have to work and survive. They do not get the time for this relaxation or they do not make the time for this relaxation. It is debatable as to which one of these is really accurate, but either way it is clear that these individuals do not take the kind of time that they should to enjoy themselves and one another. The painting that Potthast created of the children playing down by the seashore is very touching and sweet in its beauty. It shows the innocence of youth any enjoyment that these children find from simple things such as being together and being involved with the waves.
Whether these children realize the size of the ocean and their place in the grand scheme of things is not apparent or relevant to them,…