Masterpiece Stories

Painting of the Week: Edward Henry Potthast, Ocean Breezes

Alexandra Kiely 11 July 2021 min Read

This seems to be the perfect Painting of the Week for the beginning of summer vacation. It is titled Ocean Breezes and was painted by Edward Henry Potthast in the first years of the 20th century. It’s a wonderfully vivid work, showing two girls and their mother caught up in the breeze at the beach.

Edward Henry Potthast, Ocean Breezes, c. 1910, Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut, USA.
Edward Henry Potthast, Ocean Breezes, c. 1910, Lyman Allyn Art Museum, New London, Connecticut, USA.

Standing in front of it, I could almost feel the strong ocean breeze, since Potthast’s vigorous brushstrokes embody it so well in the three figures’ wavy shapes. I also imagined that I could hear the smaller girl crying, “Mommy, I’m cold!”. Her body language is one of the most vivid and interesting parts of the painting.

Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927) was an American Impressionist. He must have really loved the beach, since he painted dozens and dozens of seaside scenes. Some of them are traditional seascapes, strongly focused on the water itself, but most aren’t. Instead, Potthast’s works are usually full of people enjoying the beach. They show crowds of figures, including many children, who are wading, swimming, playing, or resting under colorful umbrellas. Potthast’s seaside locales are bright and cheerful, full of eye-catching colors. Some include sailboats’ elegant silhouettes. Potthast’s seaside paintings evoke a high-summer day at the beach, perhaps recalling viewers’ childhood memories. His beach-goers often appear from the back or side, their faces turned out of sight. Instead of being alienating, as it might sound, this simply makes a viewer feel that she’s approaching the action, maybe to enjoy the beach herself.

Edward Henry Potthast, A Sailing Party, c. 1924, Cincinnati Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.
Edward Henry Potthast, A Sailing Party, c. 1924, Cincinnati Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

Although Potthast’s works are full of people, the artist was very shy and liked to keep to himself. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio and started his career in commercial lithography. He visited Europe twice, first studying in Munich, Germany and later in France. On this second trip to France, he became interested in both Barbizon landscape painting and French Impressionism. Starting in the 1890s, he painted as an Impressionist. He moved to New York City in 1895 and stayed there for the rest of his life. He loved to paint people enjoying Central Park and Coney Island, but he also liked to spend his summers painting New England beach destinations like Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Ogunquit, Maine.

Ocean Breezes by Edward Henry Potthast is on display at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, CT, where it is part of the American Perspectives ongoing exhibition.

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