By 1908 Central Park was well established as the destination of choice for workers, writers and painters. Edward Potthast was an enthusiastic visitor of the park and would take his paintbox and sketchbooks across the road and seek out novel vignettes of the bucolic setting. While Potthast would spend hours painting in the park from life, he finished his canvases back in his studio at the Gainsborough Studios on Central Park South, considered the finest artists' residence in Manhattan. Consisting of only 34 apartments, the Gainsborough offered double-story windows in each studio and unobstructed views of the southwest corner of Central Park.
The artist had a remarkable facility with composition, and was able to create seamless scenes that were compiled from several different sketches drawn over many visits to a site. Children in Central Park is exemplary of this practice. The painting depicts two well dressed children--the girl wearing a bonnet and elaborate dress and boots, and the boy in a fashionable sailor suit--feeding ducks at the pond that borders the southern edge of Central Park. In the background Potthast has placed a couple in a row boat, establishing a middle distance in the work. Shimmering light picks up the treeline across the pond and gives the background visual interest and spatial volume. Every element has a purpose, and its entirety appears as a leisurely afternoon in the park.
Critics in Potthast's day applauded his considerable skill. A reviewer of an exhibition of the artist's paintings at Milch Galleries in December 1918 wrote: "Mr. Potthast is not to be labeled with any of the popular tags. He is just a good painter, extremely interested in his picture, which is apt to be a picture of light and color and spontaneous movement embodied in children and young people at play in the open air. He is rather impatient of detail. Faces bore him so mostly he leaves them out, or rather he makes them merely a blot of warm color in sunlight or luminous shadow. There is no fine drawing of detail anywhere but his construction is as right as a trivet; his figures stand as they should, and show real power in their loosely articulated forms...What especially differentiates Mr. Potthast's work is the soundness and sweetness of the mental attitude expressed by it...The compositions always are happy, garlands of color with spacious backgrounds, but the sense of arrangement is very successfully avoided. The spectator is left to the simple bliss of knowing what he likes without being challenged to explain to himself why he likes it." ("Exhibition of Paintings in Great Variety," The New York Times, December 1, 1918, p. 77) Children in Central Park illustrates the brilliance of Potthast's Impressionist technique and extols the beauty and sanctuary of Central Park.