Edward Henry Potthast was born on June 10, 1857 in Cincinnati, which at the time of his birth was a burgeoning art center. It was also a place of refuge for German immigrants including the Potthast family. He studied at the McMicken School of Design and at the Cincinnati Academy, and eventually went to Europe before becoming established in his native city as a lithographer and illustrator.
In 1892, he moved to New York City where he won the Clarke Prize at the National Academy among many other honors.
His studio was primarily in New York City, but in 1912, he spent extensive time in Europe where he enrolled in Academies in Antwerp, Munich and Paris. He divided his time between illustrations for Harper's and Scribner's magazines but later gave up illustration for full time fine art.
He died on March 10, 1927 in New York. He was an exceedingly private person who died at his easel.