oil on canvas
29.25 x 39.25 in. (sight)
Populated with self-absorbed vacationers sitting, running, playing and bathing at a New York beach, this painting corresponds to Potthast’s preferred subject matter from the turn of the century until his death in 1927. Along with the vibrant colors, the composition helps materialize the energy that the painting exudes: the foreground shows an expanse of dazzling, light-reflecting sand, evoking heat. The blue sky above presses the light and heat onto the figures, who occupy the space cohesively, though engaged in disparate activities. Rather than torpid, the scene is lively.
Potthast’s authentic portrayal of commoners, of their prosaic activities outside of work, is derived from direct experience and expressed through immediate execution. Potthast’s manner is resolutely Impressionist, with vigorous, spontaneous brushstrokes and thick dabs of color which stimulate the viewer by evoking sunlight, wind, reflections, and movement. The artist’s prowess in fact resides in his highly technical use of color, revealing an astute understanding of its relationship with volume, depth, and texture, and an ability to connect these qualities with ambiance and feeling. He created a luminous painting, drawing the viewer into the scene, amid the crowd on the beach, made to feel the same heat and experience the same buoyant energy. The optimism and bliss suffusing the canvas, along with the light-filled background, constitute the core of Potthast's aesthetic, reinforced by the fact that his beach-goers are not burdened by overarching concerns, but rather rooted in the very moment and scenery in which they evolve. More important than the individual and anonymous figures and the way they interact with one another, is the setting in which they deploy their energy.
Beach Scene represents a crucial phase in Potthast’s career, and in American painting in general. Freed from the more academic influence of the artist’s Munich training, the work offered here denotes a loosening of his brushstrokes and a brightening of his palette, an artistic practice echoing the cheerful demeanor of the portrayed beach-goers.
Patricia Jobe Pierce, Edward Henry Potthast: More than One Man. Published by Pierce Galleries, Inc., 2006.
Mounted on masonite. An inspection in ultraviolet light reveals three small areas of in-painting in the center left portion of the canvas, near the group of birds in flight. In a later frame.
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