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Edward Henry Potthast, American Impressionist: Selections from the Gross Family Collection


This ongoing exhibition, as of March, 2001, contains more than 30 works by Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927), a popular and successful American impressionist who was strongly influenced by French Impressionism. Painting outdoors, Potthast created numerous images of New Yorkers relaxing in Central Park or on holiday at the beach. His seaside scenes filled with sunlight and bright color were especially well received and soon became the works for which he was best known. The following text is from the panels on the walls containing the exhibition in the Hugh F. and Jeannette G. McKean Gallery of the Museum. (left: The Conference, n.d., oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches, The Gross Family Collection)

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.

The Orlando Museum of Art gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the Gross Family for lending a part of their collection for the exhibition.


The Early Years

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.


Establishing A Career

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.


The New York Studio

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.


The Final Years

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.


RL Editor's notes:

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Orlando Museum of Art in Resource Library.

Please also see:

On September 15, 2010, at the request of Mr. Geoffrey Gross, Resource Library changed the ownership citation for the image of The Conference, from "Collection of Dr. Spencer Gross, Pamela Gross Fisher, Lawrence Gross" to The Gross Family Collection."

rev. 9/15/10

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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