DescriptionEDWARD HENRY POTTHAST (American, 1857-1927)
A Summer Vacation
Oil on canvas
16 x 20 inches (40.6 x 50.8 cm)
Signed lower left: E. Potthast
Artist's label verso
Chapellier Galleries, New York (label verso);
Sotheby's, New York, American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture Including Property from the John F. Eulich Collection, May 20, 1998, lot 30;
John H. Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida;
Private collection, Maryland.
At the turn of the twentieth century, city living meant overcrowded tenements, shantytowns, grime and poverty for many New York City residents. But when weekends came around, sorrows were put on hold as masses of working-class men, women and children flocked to the nearby beaches. In A Summer Vacation Edward Henry Potthast masterfully captures the blissful spirit of seaside holidays with his depiction of a couple relaxing in the sand along the seashore. The artist presents this moment in time with a flourish of brushwork and high-keyed colors that capture the essence of the day.
Potthast was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, at a time when the city was a burgeoning art center in the Midwest. In 1869, at the age of twelve, he became a charter student at Cincinnati's new McMicken School of Design and studied there for over a decade. Like many American artists, Potthast also traveled extensively to further his career. In 1882, he spent time in Munich, Antwerp and Paris. Through the Munich School's bold style of depicting tone and atmosphere, Potthast learned to work vigorously with paint applied directly onto the canvas, and to increase his sensitivity to form. The Barbizon painters influenced Potthast's interest in everyday life in contrast to the heroic or idealized subject common in his day. Yet it was Potthast's 1889 trip to the artist's colony of Grèz-sur-Loing, France, which was undoubtedly the most influential in the development of his oeuvre. "When in Grèz," notes Dr. William Gerdts, "Potthast 'fell under the influence of [Robert] Vonnoh and [Roderick] O'Connor [sic] and became a convert to the new school of Impressionism.' The results of Potthast's conversion to the new aesthetic were immediate, and were seen in the work Potthast brought back with him to his native town. He continued to paint with the bravura brushwork and colorism of Impressionism after he moved to New York in 1896, and it continued when he began to specialize in scenes of children and other bathers at Brooklyn beaches...which then became his specialty after 1910."1
By the 1910s, Potthast established his studio on West 59th Street in New York City, in proximity to the crowded resorts of Brighton Beach and Coney Island. The seashore lent itself to a bold Impressionist treatment; Potthast captured the motion of the surf, children playing, and the casual poses of people at leisure called for Potthast's quick, animated style. In one of the most effervescent and successful of these compositions, A Summer Vacation, Potthast uses a high horizon line to accentuate the bustle and liveliness of the many city-folk enjoying a day at the beach. The composition is filled with colorfully dressed women and children. These dashes of interlocking colors and forms typify the artist's creative, Impressionist style through the use of broad and direct brushwork.
All of Potthast's artistic devices come together in A Summer Vacation to form a highly successful composition. J.W. Young, a long-time friend of the artist and Chicago art dealer, commented in 1920: "Potthast has found his greatest pleasure painting the happy groups which crowd the beaches near New York...Potthast does not paint individuals on the sands. He interprets the joy of folks on a care-free day. Whenever any artist does some one thing better than it has been done before, distinction is sure to come to him sooner or later. But when he does something that strikes the finest chord in human nature better than anyone else has done it, fame will mark that artist as one of her own."2 A Summer Afternoon is a classic example of Potthast's spontaneous painting style. The painting's quick brush strokes and vibrant palette perfectly encapsulate the essence of carefree leisure.
1: Lasting Impressions: American Painters in France 1865-1915, Evanston, Illinois, 1992, p. 67
2: as quoted in Ran Gallery, Edward Henry Potthast: An American Painter, exhibition catalogue, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1994, p. 15
Original canvas; faint craquelure visible in sky region; stable surface; under UV exam, appears to be several dots of in-painting in sky and ocean horizon at upper center left, approx. 1.25-inch surface scratch addressed with in-painting next to two tiny dots of in-painting in sky and ocean horizon at far right, and small spot of possible in-painting near center right edge; otherwise, appears to be in overall very good condition. Framed Dimensions 30 X 34 Inches
Potthast, Edward Henry:Beloved by audiences from the nineteenth century through the present for his vibrant, sunlit depictions of carefree beachgoers enjoying leisurely holidays on the coast, Edward Potthast is considered one of the most prominent of the American Impressionists. Born in Cincinnati, which was at the time a burgeoning art center and a hub for German immigrants including his own family, Potthast relocated to New York in 1892 and began spending his summers frequenting various seaside art colonies including Gloucester, Rockport and Cape Cod in Massachusetts, and Ogunquit and Monhegan Island in Maine. He was so captivated by the coast that while living in Manhattan he would regularly journey to the city's crowded beach resorts of Coney Island or Brighton Beach with his easel, panels, and paint box. Potthast began his artistic studies at the McMicken School of Design and at the Cincinnati Academy. The young artist made his first trip to Europe in 1881, where he traveled to Antwerp and then to Munich, whose Royal Academy had long been a draw for Cincinnati artists. Upon returning to his native city in 1885, Potthast became established as a lithographer and illustrator while resuming his art studies. His paintings of this period reflect the influence of the Munich School, steeped in the venerated tradition of Dutch Old Master painting. In 1886, Potthast again departed for Paris, where he became well acquainted with the light-filled, expressive canvasses being produced by both French and American expatriate Impressionists. It was at this time that the Impressionists' techniques and aesthetic began to dominate Potthast's work. The artist returned to Cincinnati with several luminous canvases. After moving to New York in 1892, Potthast embraced American leisure activity as his central subject, specializing in beach scenes and rocky harbor views painted in a high-keyed palette and bathed in warm summer light. The paintings of Edward Henry Potthast are represented in public collections across the United States, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio; Art Institute of Chicago; Cincinnati Art Museum; Georgia Museum of Art, Athens; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia.
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