Six figures sit atop a rocky cliff, admiring the view, while two swimmers play in the surf below in this small gem of a work by noted American Impressionist Edward Potthast. This was likely painted on location, en plein air, on one of Potthast’s annual summer sojourns along the New England coast between Maine and Massachusetts.
Indeed, a bright summer sun must have been shining on these beachgoers, as the whole work is suffused with light and color. Potthast loaded his brush with layer after layer of jewel-toned hues, creating incredible depth with lively brushwork and heavy impasto touches. The result is a scene both tranquil and festive; a seaside bluff drenched in sunlight.
The innovation of Impressionism was not only in style but in its subject matter. Gone was the focus on historical, allegorical visual records of old. Impressionism celebrated the fleeting nature of everyday moments- the movement of the sun, the wind and surf- people in natural poses enjoying common pursuits like this day at the beach. This elevation of the commonplace into art was an important theme not only in impressionism but in American art of this period and throughout the 20th Century.
Colorful and luminous beach scenes like this cemented Potthast’s reputation as an artist. While he painted larger works, he was at his best working on small panels, where the quality of his brush strokes is most apparent. To this day, it is these beach scenes of ease and relaxation that remain his most desired and collectable works.
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