An impressionist considered to be in the top row by American art conclaves, Potthast belonged to several of the nation's most important art associations. He achieved a resounding level of success with his aggressive-styled brushwork during his lifetime, while recent decades have seen a dramatic rise in his works' value. He excelled in painting warm sunlit beach scenes of people at leisure.
Born into a family of German immigrants living in the multi-cultural community of Cincinnati, Ohio, Potthast traveled to Europe at least twice to study in Germany and Paris. After a few years as a painter, illustrator and lithographer for Harper's and Scribner's in New York, he turned to solely painting by the mid-1890s. He found suitable subjects along the New England coast, traveling often the seashore for inspiration.
Potthast exhibited extensively, most prestigiously with the Paris salons and the National Academy of Design, earning his associate rank in the academy in 1899, becoming an academician in 1906. He was the subject of at least eight one-artist exhibits during his lifetime and more than five after his demise at home (222 Central Park South, New York City) in 1927.