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Edward Hopper
1882 – 1967

Review of the Special Interest Morning
led by Richard Cupidi
on April 27th 2019
Richard Cupidi

Edward Hopper, described as an American Visionary of the Familiar, is quoted as saying “It is very difficult to paint inside and outside at the same time”.  He took 7 years to complete a 4 year course at the New York Art School.  His first painting was sold, but thereafter he painted nothing for 10 years!  He survived by preparing commercial art for magazines and brochures.  However, his career blossomed after his marriage to Jo Nivison in 1924, when she took over the marketing of his work.  His first sale for 10 years was House by the Railroad, which was used by Alfred Hitchcock as the set for Psycho!  As one of his early paintings, it was interesting to note that a theme which was used frequently in subsequent works was evident – no people were seen, and no doors to the house were visible.

Throughout his talks in 2 sessions, Richard frequently asked us “What do you see?”  Often there are no doors visible in his paintings, and very few people - sometimes only one sole figure is seen.  Automat (1927) depicts the loneliness of a female customer, with downcast eyes.  Similarly in Chop Suey (1929) we have light and dark contrasts, with only a pool of light on the white marble table top offering relief.  People in public places usually looked alone in his work.  [Incidentally, Chop Suey sold for $92million last year.]

All of Hopper’s works seem to contain enigmas.  In Hotel Room (1931) we ask what is the model reading?  Is she packing to leave, or unpacking?  Is she is reacting to the emotional effect of whatever she is reading in this small bedroom?  The model here is Hopper’s wife, Jo, whom he used consistently.

Edward Hopper has been described as the “artist of empty spaces”, and this seems very apt in so much of his work.  Drug Store (1927) depicts a corner shop in New York, but the street is deserted – where are the people who should have been seen in a probably busy area?  In Early Sunday Morning (1930) the scene is silent and deserted, but the window blinds indicate inhabitants.  Doors are in the shadows.  Richard had amended the picture digitally to show the shadow lines, which were somewhat misaligned.

At the commencement of his second session, Richard showed us an interview with Edward Hopper, who was not overly communicative, but did suggest that his works were to be interpreted by the viewer, not by him!

Night Windows (1928) developed a further theme of Hopper’s, seen in later works, of looking from the outside in through windows of a room.  It suggested a fleeting glimpse from a passing train, of a woman bending over, although not much can be seen of her.  The curtain at an open window is blowing out rather than in, which seems odd.

In contrast, Room in Brooklyn (1932) has a seated woman looking out of her window, at buildings opposite.  It is an interesting facet of Hopper’s work, that he usually depicts his subjects at one level, rarely looking up.  In this painting, there is a notable addition to his work, as he includes a still-life of a vase of flowers.  The white vase provides a focus for the light source, which we have seen before but only on, for example, a marble table top.

One of Richard’s favourite paintings by Hopper, is New York Movie (1939), which shows an usherette in pensive mood, bathed in lamp light at the foot of stairs.  The few members of the audience are in shade, and only part of the screen is visible.  However, the perspectives in this work appear wrong, and why is a pillar shown in the centre of the plane?  As usual, although we see a staircase, there is no door, just a curtain.

Nighthawks (1942) is perhaps the best known of Edward Hopper’s works, with 3 customers at a bar late at night.  The counter is triangular, as is the building, resembling the prow of a ship.  We have lots of glass frontage, but no indication of an entrance or exit.  As usual, it depicts an air of loneliness, the only light emanating from the painted walls.  Richard showed some earlier sketches of the painting.

Many of Hopper’s paintings depicted either early morning or evening light.  A good example is Gas (1940), showing 3 petrol pumps, 1 attendant but no vehicles.  The pump tops are spherical which lead the eye into a dark wood, conjuring images of a tunnel.  Richard showed a reverse-out, illustrating just how dark it is.

Hopper made frequent excursions from Greenwich Village, his home, in his car, particularly to New England, where eventually he and Jo bought a house.  Their marriage was volatile, as he did his best to control her life.  He would not allow her to drive for 20 years!  Jo resented his lack of support for her work.  During his later years, he made several paintings of the Cape Cod area, such as Cape Cod Evening, High Noon and Cape Cod Morning.  The last is of interest in that he painted both inside and outside at the same time.  It shows a woman in a bay window leaning forward, resembling a figurehead on the prow if a ship.  In 1951 he produced Rooms by the Sea, an interior view with no figures, but surrealistically showing a door opening direct onto the sea.  “All I wanted to do was paint sunlight on a white wall”.

As usual, Richard gave a memorable presentation, with full audience participation.  I heard a couple of comments that members loved his talk, but were not so enamoured with Edward Hopper’s art, but I thoroughly enjoyed both.

Philip Akroyd

Related link

Edward Hopper - Wikipedia article