Artist Biography

Edward Henry Potthast

(1857 - 1927)

Table of Contents

    A talented American Impressionist artist known for his oeuvre of marine and beach scenes.

    By Chelsea DeLay

    I. Biography

    Edward Henry Potthast was born June 10, 1857, and was raised by his parents in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father’s occupation as a carpenter provided a solid artistic foundation for Edward. As a child, while helping with his father’s woodwork, nine-year-old Potthast learned the fundamental principles of form and design which he would continue to use later in his career.[1] His father considered Edward’s hopes of becoming a successful artist as fruitless, and his disapproval often reduced the young boy to hiding away, out of sight, where he would sketch copies of Winslow Homer’s illustrations by candlelight.[2] Potthast’s upbringing was marred by the Civil War and the effects it had on his family’s finances; when he was only sixteen, Potthast was forced to abandon his education, replacing school with a paying job that would help support his family.[3]

    Unable to let go of his artistic aspirations, Potthast balanced work with formal training. Around 1869, he began to work day shifts at Ehrgott Krebs Company as a lithographer, while intermittently attending night classes at McMicken School of Design.[4] In 1881, Potthast finally had enough money saved to purchase a ticket to Europe, where he spent a brief time in Antwerp, before traveling on to Munich. He enrolled at the Royal Academy in 1882, and soon after his works began to demonstrate a clear integration of the somber, dark tonalities typical of the Munich palette.[5]

    In 1885, Potthast returned to Cincinnati for a short time, where he resumed balancing his lithography work at Strobridge Lithographers, while taking night classes at the Cincinnati Art Academy.[6] The allure of working en plein air combined with the French countryside proved irresistible for Potthast, who began a two-year tour through Fontainebleau, Barbizon, and Gréz in 1885. Under the instruction of Robert W. Vonnoh, Potthast began to incorporate aspects of French Impressionism into his landscapes, playing with the ephemeral qualities of light and embracing brighter tonalities.[7]

    In the 1890s, Potthast returned to the United States, finally settling in New York City to work as an illustrator for Scribner’s and Century Magazine. Consequently, his work began to feature subjects of a more urban nature, which he rendered in a distinctly impressionist style. Potthast’s efforts to tie himself into the New York City art scene forged valuable connections and friendships which he would maintain well into his future. Several of Potthast’s early New York memberships included the Salmagundi Club, the New York Water Color Society, the Lotus Club, and Associate membership to the National Academy in 1899.

    Just before the turn of the century, Potthast began to exhibit consistently at the National Academy and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. As he began to build a strong repertoire of landscape and marine paintings, the tight, academic feel of Potthast’s earlier works gave way to looser brushwork that captured a moment in time, infusing his canvases with an essence of spontaneity. In 1906 he was elected to full membership at the National Academy, and four years later, Potthast, along with four other prominent Academicians, was selected by the Santa Fe Railroad to travel west and record the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon.[8]

    Potthast was never married, and seemed complacent leading a fairly tranquil lifestyle. He favored the leisurely life of an artist, partaking in hobbies such as traveling, boating, and theater, all in the name of artistic inspiration. The works for which Edward Potthast is most remembered are his dynamic beach and coastal scenes. These vibrant paintings represent the culmination of years spent perfecting his skill of drawing and masterly control of color.[9] Potthast possessed an innate gift for capturing the lighthearted nature of beachgoers, and instilled a colorful vitality into the likes of children splashing in the ocean and gossiping women strolling along the beach.

    Potthast’s dedication to his craft endured up until his final moments; in 1927, his body was discovered in his New York Studio, where he had passed away while working.

    II. Chronology

    • 1857 Born June 10, in Cincinnati, Ohio
    • 1869 Enrolled in night classes at the McMicken School of Design for formal training
    • 1881 Academic excursion to Europe; First destination was Antwerp, where he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts
    • 1882–85 Moved on to Munich, enrolled in the Royal Academy
    • 1885 Resumed work as a lithographer at the Strobridge Company, and enrolled in night classes at the Cincinnati Art Academy
    • 1885–87 Traveled abroad to France, enrolled at the Académie Julian and Ecole des Beaux-Arts
    • 1888 Went to Holland to study peasant life and encountered the work of Vincent Van Gogh
    • 1889–92 Accepted a position as a painting instructor at the Cincinnati Art Academy and Cincinnati Art Club
    • 1892 One-man exhibition held at Barton’s Art Store in Cincinnati, Ohio
    • 1894 Worked as a magazine illustrator for Harper’s, Scribner’s, and Century
    • 1895 Relocated to New York City to pursue painting
    • Joined the Salmagundi Club
    • Became director of the American Water Color Society
    • 1899 Elected Associate member of the National Academy
    • 1902 Elected to the Society of American Artists
    • 1906 Elected as Academician of the National Academy
    • 1910 Grand Canyon exploratory expedition with fellow National Academicians Thomas Moran, Elliott Daingerfield, Frederick Williams, and DeWitt Parshall
    • 1927 Died in his New York studio on March 9

    III. Collections

    • Albany Museum of Art, NY
    • Anschutz Collection, CO
    • Art Institute of Chicago, IL
    • Boston Museum of Fine Arts, MA
    • Brooklyn Art Institute, NY
    • Brooklyn Museum of Art, NY
    • Bruce Museum, CT
    • Butler Institute of American Art, OH
    • Chicago Art Institute, IL
    • Chicago Union League Club, IL
    • Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
    • Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
    • De Young Museum, CA
    • Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, KS
    • George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, MA
    • Georgia Museum of Art, GA
    • Hackley Art Gallery, MI
    • Hickory Museum of Art, NC
    • Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
    • Hunter Museum of American Art, TN
    • Jersey City Museum, NJ
    • Lakeview Museum of Arts, IL
    • Lyman Allyn Museum of Art, NY
    • Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
    • Montclair Art Museum, NJ
    • National Academy of Design, NY
    • National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
    • Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, MO
    • New Jersey State Museum, NJ
    • New York Historical Society, NY
    • Orlando Museum of Art, FL
    • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, PA
    • Phoenix Art Museum, AZ
    • Santa Fe Railway, CA
    • Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, NB
    • Snite Museum of Art, IN
    • Springfield Museum of Art, OH
    • Springfield Museum of Fine Arts, OH
    • Terra Museum of American Art, IL
    • The Cincinnati Club, OH
    • Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain
    • Union League Club of Chicago, IL
    • University of Michigan Museum of Art, MI
    • University of Wyoming Art Museum, WY
    • Wellesley College Museum of Art, MA
    • Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art, AL
    • Wichita Art Museum, KS
    • Yale University Art Gallery, CT

    IV. Exhibitions

    (+ indicated solo exhibitions)

    • 1889 Paris Salon
    • 1892 +Barton’s Art Store, OH
    • 1895–1927 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Annual Exhibition
    • 1897–1927, 1899 National Academy of Design, Clark Prize, 1899
    • 1896–1909 Boston Art Club
    • 1889–1891 Paris Salon
    • 1896-1925 Art Institute of Chicago
    • 1901 American Watercolor Society, Evans Prize
    • 1903
      • +Montross Gallery, NY
      • +Macbeth Gallery, NY
      • +Traxel Art Gallery, OH
      • +Katz Galleries, NY
    • 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis World’s Fair, silver medal
    • 1907–1923 Corcoran Gallery Biennials
    • 1912
      • +Macbeth Gallery, NY
      • +Young’s Art Gallery, IL
    • 1914 American Watercolor Society, Hudnut Prize
    • 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exhibition, CA, silver medal
    • 1920 +Young’s Art Gallery, IL
    • 1924
      • +Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
      • +Feragil Galleries, NY
    • 1925
      • +Brooks Memory Art Museum, TN
      • +Braus Galleries, NY
    • 1926
      • +Closson Galleries, OH
      • +Traxel Galleries, OH
    • 1927
      • Traxel Art Gallery, OH
      • +Grand Central Art Galleries, NY
      • Memorial and Retrospective Exhibitions:
    • 1928
      • Grand Central Art Galleries, NY
      • Closson Gallery, OH
      • Feragil Galleries, NY
    • 1962 Hirschl & Adler Galleries, NY
    • 1965
      • Cincinnati Art Museum, OH
      • Butler Institute of American Art, OH
    • 1966 Ira Spanierman Gallery, LLC, NY
    • 1967
      • Peoria Art Guild at Lakeview Center, IL
      • Xavier University Fine Arts Gallery, OH
    • 1968
      • The Chapellier Galleries, NY
      • Hirschl & Adler Galleries, NYC
      • The Taft Museum, OH
    • 1973 The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
    • 1975 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
    • 1985–88
      • Edward H. Potthast, American Painter of Summer and Surf (traveling exhibition)
      • The J.B. Speed Memorial Art Museum, KT
      • Brooks Memorial Museum of Art, TN
      • The Fine Arts Museum of the South, AL
      • Oklahoma Museum of Art, OK
      • Wichita Art Museum, KS
      • Fine Arts Center at Cheekwood, TN
      • Davenport Art Gallery, Iowa
      • Huntsville Museum of Art, AL
      • The Arkansas Art Center, AR
      • Albany Museum of Art, GA
      • Springfield Art Museum, MS
      • Elvehjem Museum of Art, WS
      • Mississippi Museum of Art, MS
      • Beaumont Art Museum, TX
    • 1996 The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, TN
    • 1997 Telfair Art Museum, GA
    • 1998 The Gerald Peters Gallery, NY
    • 2001 Orlando Museum of American Art, FL

    V. Memberships

    • Allied Artists of America, 1922
    • American Water Color Society, 1894, director, 1895
    • Art Club of Philadelphia, 1898
    • Boston Art Club
    • Cincinnati Art Club, 1912/13, honorary member
    • Dragonfly Club, 1886-1889
    • Fine Arts Federation of New York, 1910–1917, represented members of the American Water Color Society
    • League of American Artists
    • Lotus Club, 1912, life member
    • National Academy, Associate, 1899; Academician, 1906
    • National Arts Club, 1913, life member
    • National Institute of Arts & Letters, 1905
    • New York Water Color Society, 1900
    • New York Society of Painters, 1916
    • Painters and Sculptors Gallery Association, honorary
    • Salmagundi Club, 1895
    • Society of American Artists, 1902
    • Society of Men Who Paint the Far West, 1911–1920, founding member
    • Society of Western Painters, 1897–1898, founding member
    • Societe des Artistes, Paris, France, 1889

    VI. Suggested Resources

    1. Boyle, Richard J. American Impressionism. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1974. p. 139.

    2. Falk, Peter H. Who Was Who in American Art. Madison, Connecticut: Sound View Press, 1999, p. 2648.

    3. Gerdts, William. American Impressionism. New York, Abbeville Publishing Group, 1984. p. 244.

    4. Pierce, Patricia Jobe. Edward Potthast: More Than One Man, foreword by Prescott S. Bush Jr., ed. Marco Apollo. Hingam: Pierce Galleries, Inc., 2006.

    VII. Notes

    1. Patricia Jobe Pierce, Edward Potthast: More Than One Man, foreword by Prescott S. Bush Jr., ed. Marco Apollo (Hingam: Pierce Galleries, Inc., 2006), 4.
    2. Ibid, 3.
    3. Ibid, 10.
    4. Robert R. Preato, Sandra L. Langer Dr., and James D. Cox, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Transformations in the Modern American Mode 1885–1945 (New York: Grand Central Art Galleries, Inc., 1988), 61.
    5. Pierce, 24.
    6. Arlene Jacobowitz, Edward Henry Potthast: 1857 to 1927 (New York City: The Chapellier Galleries, 1969), 2.
    7. Ibid, 3.
    8. Ibid, 5.
    9. Ibid, 6.

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