Is there something special in the Hamptons water? That’s a natural question when you consider the unusual number of artists and writers who have flourished on the East End of Long Island in the past century. It makes you wonder what magic has fueled such monumental creativity.
For artists, it seems to have been the light and open space as well as the water itself—the glinting, gleaming Atlantic Ocean and Peconic Bay that surround the South Fork. For writers, the draw is the quiet and the privacy (along with the ability to convene for drinks once the day’s deadlines have been met).
The two creative communities are linked, enjoying each other’s company from Southampton to the tip of Montauk, and even playing sports against each other in the famous Artists & Writers Charity Softball Game every summer.
For the visual set, the modern era began when American Impressionists such as William Merritt Chase and Childe Hassam came east in the late 19th century and started painting what they saw. Fluffy clouds, sand dunes, and ladies’ hats blowing in the wind soon made it onto canvases inspired by the French Impressionists.
Things really took off in the 1940s and 1950s, as the New York School of painters set up shop on the East End, first as a retreat and then as a permanent home for many of them.
When Jackson Pollock was photographed for Life magazine and became the most famous artist alive for his drip paintings, the shots were taken at his Hamptons studio. His wife, Lee Krasner, was also producing striking paintings, as were Willem de Kooning—who lived there and painted for decades after Pollock died in a car accident—and his artistwife, Elaine de Kooning.
Roy Lichtenstein was a Hamptonite, too. Ditto Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers. Andy Warhol lived on a renowned fiveacre Montauk estate that sold for $50 million in 2016. The momentum has continued with contemporary artists such as Eric Fischl, Annie Leibovitz, and Francesco Clemente. For the eye-poppingly long list, go to the Parrish Art Museum website ( parrishart.org); this local institution, itself a true force in visual arts, is keeping tabs.
Literary lions also populate the Hamptons, and have for generations. The sleepy, seaside villages didn’t offer much excitement in the 19th century, though James Fenimore Cooper wrote two novels in Sag Harbor. It was in the 1950s that John Steinbeck came to that same town later in his career, around the time he wrote Travels with Charley, and launched a new era of writing by the beach.
Novelist Truman Capote (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), famously social in New York City, used his Sagaponack house as a retreat, telling Architectural Digest in 1976, “In the past 14 years, since I’ve had this house, I’ve gone out six times for dinner.” (Artist Ross Bleckner later bought and lived in the home.)
Playwright Edward Albee (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ?) lived in Montauk for 40 years. His estate was eventually purchased by fashion designer Ralph Lauren. Albee’s onetime boyfriend, Tony-winning playwright Terrence McNally, is still a Hamptons denizen.
Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Caro (who is still working on his final Lyndon Johnson bio installation), E.L. Doctorow, Peter Matthiessen, and Joseph Heller are among the many other writers who have lived and worked among the dunes. Interestingly, though, the Hamptons haven’t provided a setting for as many books as it has paintings, aside from the potboilers of Long Island– based Nelson DeMille (Plum Island).Perhaps plots of land don’t translate easily into plots for novels. Still, it’s clear that the Hamptons are fertile ground for creative output.
ON THE MARKET: FAMOUS ARTIST’S HOME
With the abundance of photographers, playwrights, artists, and writers who have called the Hamptons home, it is often possible to purchase beautiful properties that once belonged to celebrated talents. With a little luck, their creative spirit lingers on for new owners to absorb.
Artist Erica-Lynn Huberty’s sixbedroom home three blocks from the beach borders nearly 30 acres of nature reserve. It has English gardens, a heated pool, stone patios, a heated outdoor shower, a greenhouse, and a treehouse. $1,650,000. Rima Mardoyan Smyth email@example.com Ryan Struble firstname.lastname@example.org
—by Ted Loos