An Impressionist paints New York’s sand and surf

Impressionist artist Edward Henry Potthast, born in Cincinnati in 1857, never married and had no children.

[“Coney Island,” 1910]

But this devoted painter who made art his entire life (he even died in his studio overlooking Central Park) seemed to find deep delight in depicting scenes of families, especially young mothers and children, enjoying the sand and surf at the city’s seaside pleasure outposts.

[“Summer Day, Brighton Beach” date unknown]

After studying art in Europe, Potthast permanently relocated to Manhattan in the 1890s, working as an illustrator for monthly publications such as Scribner’s and Harper’s while painting and exhibiting his own work.

[“Saturday Afternoon, Rockaway Beach” 1915]

He lived and worked at the Gainsborough, a building of artists’ studios on Central Park South that opened in 1908. “After his move to New York, Potthast made scenes of people enjoying leisurely holidays at the beach and rocky harbor views his specialty,” states this biography.

[“Manhattan Beach” date unknown]

Although he painted scenes of bright sunny skies and sparkling blue water in out-of-state locales in Massachusetts and Maine, “[s]uch was his love of the beach that, when he resided in New York, he would journey out on fair days to Coney Island or Far Rockaway with his easel, paintbox, and a few panels.”

[“Brighton Beach” date unknown]

While Coney Island and the Rockaways have been popular with painters since these resorts began attracting massive crowds in the late 19th century, Potthast’s beach scenes don’t resemble not the tawdry Coney Island of Reginald Marsh or the foreboding Coney of Alfred Henry Maurer.

[“Brighton Beach” date unknown]

Instead, they show the gentle and genteel side of the city’s beaches in the 1910s—vivid with color, activity, and a dreamy innocence that makes one wish they could be instantly transported there, away from the complexities of contemporary life.

[“Rockaway Beach” 1910]

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4 Responses to “An Impressionist paints New York’s sand and surf”

  1. Ty Says:

    An impressionist who paints the children’s emotions with photo realism.

    I’d like to see these in person.

    I’ll bet he longed to step around that canvas become one of his subjects.

  2. The Hatching Cat Says:

    Whenever I see paintings of New York like these, I’m reminded that, yes, the city has always been a vivid, colorful place. I spend so many hours a week looking at old black-and-white photos of the city–which make the city look grimy and gloomy–that I forget to “see” the colors of Old New York.

  3. Zoe Says:

    I love these. These are beautiful. The white ‘sailor shirts’ on the girls in the second photo! I love how people dressed so specifically for every event & circumstance then — including their children.

    I love what everyone is wearing here. My grandmother described how the black wool bathing suits then were so intolerably hot & also got heavy when wet. So people were tortured either way! (See fourth & fifth image here for people probably wearing those).

    And she told me how she & other girls (under age 14) wore bathing suit frocks (dresses) that came to their knees. (All of that on the Baltic & Berlin beaches 1890s-1910s). And as an adult a long white dress w/ white shoes. (German Island between Denmark & Germany c.1918). I still have that photo. Her fiance (who she eventually did not marry) was in a pale linen summer suit & straw hat. (Son of a large vineyards owner & wine producer). Imagine people in shoes & suits on the beach today!

    Thanks for introducing me to local artists I’ve not been familiar with Ephemeral. These are precious. The painter was probably fascinated by the beach because he did not grow up near it. We can get so jaded here.

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