Potthast was a Cincinnati painter of art, prints and posters who became successful in New York, as had his friend Robert Blum a decade earlier. His training was extensive. He studied in Cincinnati with Frank Duveneck and Thomas S. Noble; in Antwerp and Munich at the Royal Academy; and in Paris at the Académie Julian with Gustave Boulanger and Jule-Joseph Lefebvre.
After thorough study in Cincinnati, New York, Munich, and Paris, Potthast moved to Manhattan in 1896, where he augmented his income by providing lively illustrations for Harper’s, Scribner’s, and Century Magazine. In New York, Potthast became famous for his heavily impastoed figural beach compositions. Not afraid of color, he had adopted the high-key palette of French Impressionism and was particularly adept at orchestrating it for vivid decorative effect. Potthast’s art, prints and posters of beach scenes are strikingly effective in conveying a palpably hot, raking, afternoon light.
Potthast was adept in more than one medium. In addition to mastering oil, he contributed a series of surely drawn works in graphite, a body of spontaneous watercolors, and a group of actively scumbled works in crayon that shimmer with light. His successful art, prints and posters on paper were produced during his frequent visits to his favorite summer haunts in Gloucester, and Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Maine. He counted among his friends Robert Blum, John H. Twachtman, Frank Duveneck, Henry Farny. During his lifetime, Potthast's work was shown frequently and widely at home and abroad: New York, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C.