Edward Henry Potthast Biography

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 Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)

Edward Henry Potthast was born on June 10, 1857 in Cincinnati, Ohio. At a young age he showed a natural inclination toward art, filling the blank pages and margins of his school books with drawings. By the age of sixteen, he had begun an apprenticeship with a large Cincinnati lithographic firm. The craft served him well. He was able to support himself comfortably as a lithographer until the age of 39 when he moved to New York City to embark on a career as a full-time painter.

During the twenty or so years that Potthast worked as a lithographer, he was studying painting. Although he attended night classes at the local academy, his most important training came from two trips he made to Europe. He studied in Munich, Germany from 1882 - 1885. The Munich School was very popular with young artists from Cincinnati as that area of Ohio had been settled by German immigrants. The style of the Munich School was characterized by painterly brushwork, subdued color and bold lights and darks. These qualities remained in Potthast's work until he found his own style in the Impressionist vein.

In 1887, Potthast made his second trip to Europe. Initially returning to Munich, he moved to Paris before fatefully settling in Barbizon, a small town in the forest of Fontainebleau, the home of the great French school of plein-air landscape painters and a place where many of the French Impressionists had worked in their youth.

Potthast again returned to his home town of Cincinnati and his job at the lithographers. Community respect and encouragement for his artwork grew, culminating in the purchase of one of his paintings for the Cincinnati Museum of Art. This appears to have been the turning point for him, pushing him toward becoming a full-time artist.

In 1895, he moved to New York City to open a studio. Upon his arrival, he began working as a freelance illustrator for such popular magazines as Scribner's and Century to support his artistic career. Within a few years, Edward Potthast was firmly established in the New York art world. He won numerous prizes, was included in all the important annual exhibitions and was a member of many art associations; such as the National Academy of Design, the Society of American Artists and the Salamgundi Club.

By 1908 he had a studio in the Gainsborough Building overlooking Central Park. This was an ideal location for Potthast. The activity of Central Park, - people on family outings and children playing, - became a favorite subject of the 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.

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.

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