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Edward Hopper

American Scene Artist

On Display at: Carnegie Museum of Art


Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was an American painter and printmaker.Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was an American painter and printmaker.

Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was an American painter and printmaker. While most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching.

Born in upper Nyack, New York to a prosperous dry-goods merchant, Hopper studied illustration and painting in New York City at the New York Institute of Art and Design. One of his teachers, artist Robert Henri, encouraged his students to use their art to "make a stir in the world". Henri, an influence on Hopper, motivated students to render realistic depictions of urban life. Henri's students, many of whom developed into important artists, became known as the Ashcan School of American art. Hopper studied under Henri for five years.

Upon completing his formal education, Hopper made three trips to Europe, each centered in Paris, to study the emerging art scene there, but unlike many of his contemporaries who imitated the abstract cubist experiments, the idealism and detail of the realist painters resonated with Hopper. His early projects reflect the realist influence with an emphasis on colour and shape. Eschewing the usual New England subjects of seascapes or boats, Hopper was attracted to Victorian architecture, although it was no longer in fashion. According to Boston Museum of Fine Arts curator Carol Troyen, "He really liked the way these houses with their turrets and towers and porches and mansard roofs and ornament cast wonderful shadows. He always said that his favorite thing was painting sunlight on the side of a house." [1]

While he worked for several years as a commercial artist, Hopper continued painting with moderate success yet not as much as he wanted. He sold a variety of small prints and watercolors to tourists and minor publications yet received only a casual if warm response from curators and gallery owners.[2]

According to Troyen, Hopper's "breakthrough work" was The Mansard Roof, painted in 1923 during Hopper's first summer in Gloucester, MA. His former art school classmate and later wife, Josephine Nivison Hopper, suggested he enter it in the Brooklyn Museum annual watercolor show, along with some other paintings. The Mansard Roof was purchased by the museum for its permanent collection, for the sum of $100. [1]

In 1925 he produced House by the Railroad, a classic work that marks his artistic maturity. The piece is the first of a series of stark urban and rural scenes that uses sharp lines and large shapes, played upon by unusual lighting to capture the lonely mood of his subjects. He derived his subject matter from the common features of American life — gas stations, motels, the railroad, or an empty street — and its inhabitants.

Hopper continued to paint in his old age, dividing his time between New York City and Truro, Massachusetts. He died in 1967, in his studio near Washington Square, in New York City. His wife, painter Josephine Nivison, who died 10 months later, bequeathed his work to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Other significant paintings by Hopper are at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Though Hopper's works are very accessible, he was seen, often, as extremely alienated since he had given up commercial illustration to dedicate his professional life to painting. [3]



The most well known of Hopper's paintings, Nighthawks (1942), shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. The diner's harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion of the painting. The painting conveys the elements of confinement and isolation. One critic, Walter Wells, sees in the picture the influence of Ernest Hemingway's story, "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," both picture and story representing a "sanctuary against the ultimate night [i.e. death] in a world without God or spiritual solace."

Hopper's rural New England scenes, such as Gas (1940), are no less meaningful. "Gas" represents "a different, equally clean, well-lighted refuge.... ke[pt] open for those in need as they navigate the night, traveling their own miles to go before they sleep." [4] Brilliant sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, also play symbolically powerful roles in Hopper paintings such as "Early Sunday Morning" (1930), "Summertime" (1943), "Seven A.M." (1948), and "Sun in an Empty Room" (1963).

In terms of subject matter, Hopper can be compared to his contemporary, Norman Rockwell. Hopper's work exploits empty spaces, represented by a gas station astride an empty country road and the sharp contrast between the natural light of the sky, moderated by the lush forest, and glaring artificial light coming from inside the gas station. Most of Hopper's paintings have a concentration on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment and with each other. Like stills for a movie or tableaux in a play, Hopper positions his characters as if they have been captured just before or just after the climax of a scene [5]


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