Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927) The Grand Canyon Oil on canvas: 30” x 40” Signed l.r.: E. Potthast
EDWARD POTTHAST’S CAPTIVATING PAINTING OF THE BREATHTAKING
GRAND CANYON VISTA
Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)
The Grand Canyon
Oil on canvas: 30” x 40”
Signed l.r.: E. Potthast
Anne and Merrill Gross, Wyoming, Ohio and Orlando, Florida.
National Academy of Design, 1918, #370, as Rainbow, Grand Canyon (? --See Wilson, below)
Paintings by Edward H. Potthast 1857-1927 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Merrill Gross, Cincinnati, Ohio, Cincinnati Art Museum, 1965.
Edward Henry Potthast From the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Merrill Gross, Youngstown, Ohio, The Butler Institute of American Art, November 14-December 19, 1965.
Edward H. Potthast, N. A., 1857-1927, Washington D. C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, March 16-April 22, 1973; Oxford Ohio, Miami University, Miami University Art Museum, n.d.
Edward Potthast: An American Impressionist, Orlando, Florida, Orlando Museum of Art, January 7- February 12, 1989; Fort Myers Florida, Edison Community College Gallery of Art, 1990.
Edward Potthast, An American Impressionist: The Gross Family Collection, St. Petersburg, Florida, Museum of Fine Arts, July 7-September 8, 1991; Cummer Gallery of Art, January 9-March 22, 1992; Marietta, Georgia, Cobb Museum of Art, April 10-July 25, 1992.
Americans at Play: Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927), Memphis, Tennessee, The Dixon Gallery and Gardens, June 30-September 22, 1996.
Edward Potthast: An American Impressionist, Savannah, Georgia, Telfair Museum of Art, March 11-May 25, 1997.
An American Impressionist: Edward Henry Potthast, Birmingham, Alabama, Birmingham Museum of Art, August 31, 1997-February 1, 1998.
Edward Henry Potthast: American Impressionist, New York, Gerald Peters Gallery, May 20-June 20, 1998.
With staggeringly bold forms and brilliant hues, Edward Potthast’s Grand Canyon is a testament to theprofound influence of westward travel on American artists in the twentieth century. In this work onecan see through the eyes of the painter the breathtaking experience of viewing this dramatic vista,unrivaled in its sheer scale and monumental beauty. This experience would indeed prove life-alteringfor Potthast, whose commitment to the Southwest would endure throughout his career as he continuedto travel there to paint the Canyon, and also to forge a community of artists similarly inspiredby its magnificence. At the outset of the twentieth century, was a brand new rail line extending all theway to the very edge of the Grand Canyon, the Santa Fe Railway had an entire country to convinceto travel westward. Having come dangerously close to bankcruptcy in the late 1880s, railway executivesbegan to study the possibilities of creating an advertising campaign that would invite artists totravel there at the Railroad’s expense in exchange for the right to reproduce their paintings in advertisementsfor the line. In earlier years, it had been a lengthy and grueling journey to send artists tothe Grand Canyon to promote tourism. However, with the new line direct travel to the Canyon wasfinally possible, and in 1901 the first locomotive took passengers all the way to the south rim.
In November of 1910, in an effort to transform the image of the Santa Fe Railway and to stimulatetourism to the Southwest, Ohio-born Potthast, along with four other prominent artists, was invitedby the Railway to journey to the Grand Canyon to recreate on canvas the unique experience of itslandscape. It has been written that the five artists, Thomas Moran, Elliott Daingerfield, Frederick B.Williams, De Witt Parshall, and Potthast, all from very different schools of painting, were led to theedge of the canyon with their eyes closed so that they may be awed by the panorama in its entirety,and indeed, they were overwhelmed by its magnificence.
This would be the first visit to the Grand Canyon for Potthast, who out of the group would be particularlymoved by the experience. Indeed, in the present work one can see the artist’s confident handlingand impressionistic color. In addition, Potthast celebrates the awe-inspiring expanse and sublimescale of the Canyon by creating a marvelous depth in his composition. The sun breaks gloriouslythrough the menacing gray skies and the rainbow emerges as a beacon of hope and promise, signalingnature as a moral force, and manifesting romantic associations common among viewers of theWestern landscape at the time.
Potthast would go on to exhibit his depictions of the Grand Canyon at the National Academy in1911, 1918, and 1920. It has been speculated by Dr. John Wilson that the present painting may have been the work that Potthast exhibited at the Academy in 1918. (J. Wilson, Edward Henry Potthast: American Impressionist, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1998, p.14) Potthast’s devotion to the Southwest would also lead him to become a founder of a group called the Society of Men Who Paint the West, which included several of the artists who accompanied Potthast on the 1910 painting excursion.
Essay by William H. Gerdts:
WILLIAM H. GERDTS
1120 PARK AVENUE
NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10128
Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)
The Grand Canyon, ca. 1917 or earlier
Oil on canvas; 30"x40"
Edward Henry Potthast has become one of the most sought-after of American Impressionists although, younger than such celebrated figures as Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase and other major figures of the movement, he was, in his lifetime, a very private person, and seldom associated with them in exhibitions and discussions of the movement. His fame, too, until recently, has been almost uniquely associated with a single theme-that of families and especially children on the beach, particularly the beaches on Long Island, in the vicinity of his home in New York, a subject which was especially suited to the sunlight, bright colors, and sweeping brushwork of Impressionism. Only in recent years has his distinguished accomplishment in a variety of motifs, sometimes utilizing other artistic strategies gained attention. These include not only variations of his beach scenes such as children playing in Central Park, coastal landscapes, often nocturnal, in Gloucester, Rockport, Ogunquit, Monhegan, and other coastal New England communities, and his vigorous and dramatic wilderness paintings, both in the Northern setting of Lake Louise in Canada, and especially his brilliant, colorful, and sometimes monumental renderings of the Grand Canyon of Arizona.
Edward Henry Potthast was born in Cincinnati, and at age twelve he became a charter student McMicken School of Design, which became the leading institution for art instruction in the city, remaining for more than a decade; his principal teacher was Thomas Satterthwaite Noble, a portrait and figure painter and a leader in the Cincinnati art world. In 1881, Potthast went to Europe, first studying with Charles Verlat in Antwerp and then to Munich, a leading destination for many Midwestern art students from families with German backgrounds such as Frank Duveneck and John Twachtman, both from Cincinnati., Potthast studied with leading teachers at the Munich Royal Academy, Nicolas Gysis, Ludwig Loefftz, and possibly with Carl Marr, who had expatriated from Wisconsin. Returning to Cincinnati in 1885, Potthast worked in a Munich-influenced style of solid form and draftsmanship and dark, unbroken brushwork, itself derived from Dutch seventeenth century painting. ln1887 he returned to Europe, this time studying in Paris, and in 1889 Potthast visited the artists' colony in Grez-sur-Loing, where the dominant aesthetic was turning from a Barbizon mode to Impressionism. Especially under the influence there of Robert Vonnoh, Potthast adopted Impressionism's color, light, and broken brushwork, a style which earned him the designation of Cincinnati's first Impressionist on his return to his hometown in 1891-92.
Nevertheless, despite modest success in his home town, Potthast moved permanently to New York City in 1895, establishing himself as a painter and illustrator and exhibiting at the National Academy of Design, where he became an associate member in 1899 and a full academician in 1906, after traveling to Volendam, Holland, the previous year. By 1908, he had established himself in the Gainsborough Studio Building at 222 West 59th Street where he remained for the rest of his life. During these years, Potthast concentrated on landscapes and harbor scenes; it was only in the early years of the second decade of the twentieth century that he began to focus on the beach scenes upon which his reputation has rested. Potthast never married, but his brother, Henry, named his son, Edward Henry Potthast, and there has been confusion over the years as to the authorship of some of their work.
Despite the loveliness and popularity of his favored beach scenes painted at Coney Island elsewhere; Potthast's fine renderings of New England harbors and seaports; the time spent in Antwerp, Munich, and Paris as a student; and even the pictures of the rugged terrain of Lake Louise, painted during the second half of the century's first decade, do not match the vigor and colorism of Potthast's views of the Grand Canyon, seen in the present example at its most dramatic and most brilliantly colored. Potthast visited the Grand Canyon for ten days in November of 1910, as part of the Santa Fe Railroad's plan to stimulate tourism. He was invited, along with other painters, Thomas Moran, Elliott Daingerfield, Frederick Ballard Williams, De Witt Parshall, and the printmaker, Gustave Buek to journey there and record their unique experiences. They traveled by private Pullman car and stayed at the El Tovar Hotel on the South rim, each artist also being given his own studio at the rim; in addition they went by mule down the Bright Angel trail into the Canyon itself. These artists all represented different aesthetic directions of the time, and Moran, of course, had visited and painted the Grand Canyon many decades earlier; he was certainly the senior member of the group. But it was Potthast for which the experience provided and proved the greatest revelation. It was reported that he "worked indefatigably with brush and pencil and took back numerous interesting sketches.
For the rest of the decade, from this and later visits, Potthast developed both smaller paintings and at least three large works,, 30"x40", but none of the others exploit so fully the fantastic rock and mountain formations, and especially the vivid and varied hot colors with which Potthast endows this picture. The artist contrasts these with the cool drama of the swirling sky, while separating these two distinct areas with the vivid rainbow, both a natural termination of a storm and a traditional symbol of heavenly beneficence. What Potthast has achieved here, as in no other paintings of the Grand Canyon, is a combination of Impressionist and almost Fauve modernism with the sense of discovery and revelation that had inspired the earliest views of the great natural wonder by Moran and other earlier painters and photographers. Potthast would continue to exhibit his paintings of the Grand Canyon at the National Academy and elsewhere; as the present painting was probably the picture shown at the Academy in 1918, it was most likely painted the year before. The artist's sojourn in the Southwest would lead him to become a founder of a group of eleven artists who formed the Society of Men Who Paint the West, including all of the other artists who accompanied him in 1910; the Society was formed in 1912 to circulate annual exhibitions.
Nina Spaulding Stevens, "Pilgrimage to the Artist's Paradise," Fine Arts Journal, 24, February, 1911, pp. 105-117. Reprinted and expanded as: A Little Journey from New York to the Grand Canyon of Arizona by five artists and their friends, November nineteen ten. Printed only for private distribution.
Gustav Kobbe, "Artists Combine for a Trip to Arizona, New York Herald, 26 November, 1911.
Arlene Jacobowitz, "Edward Henry Potthast," Brooklyn Museum Annual, 9, 1967-68, pp. 113-128. Arlene Jacobowitz, Edward Henry Potthast 1857 to 1927. New York, The Chapellier Galleries, 1969. Katherine L. Chase, "Brushstrokes on the Plateau," Plateau, 56, January, 1984, p. 11.
Sandra D'Emilio and Suzan Campbell, Visions & Visionaries The Art & Artists of the Santa Fe Railway. Salt Lake City, Peregrine Books, 1991.
Joni L. Kinsey, The Majesty of the Grand Canyon 150 Years in Art. Cobb, California, First Glance Books, 1998.
John Wilson, Edward Henry Potthast American Impressionist. New York, Gerald Peters Gallery, 1998. Patricia Jobe Pierce. Edward Henry Potthast More than One Man. Hingham, Massachusetts, Pierce Galleries, Inc., 2006 .
William H. Gerdts
Professor Emeritus of Art History, Graduate School of the City University of New York