Edward Hopper

Santa Barbara Museum of Art

 

Nude Crawling into Bed
oil on board
ca. 1903-05

Before 1910 Edward Hopper was a great painter. Three small paintings suffice. Nude Crawling into Bed is a dark room barely illuminated across white sheets which the broad thighs and buttocks of a nude prepare to enter, like one of the paintings Watteau burned. Bridge in Paris prepares for Lundeberg, River and Buildings for Diebenkorn.

Bridge in Paris
oil on wood
1906

River and Buildings
oil on board on canvas
1907

Queensborough Bridge
oil on canvas
1913

Queensborough Bridge states the theme: American Impressionism. Supermodern, complete, assured. Compare it to George Bellows’ Floating Ice, a large canvas of blues and greens filling the space between snowy hills and blue-and-white snowdrifts: these are vast compositions, swift-running and (especially with Hopper) pictures that are going somewhere.

George Bellows
Floating Ice
oil on canvas
4 x 5'
1910

We know Hopper by his stage constructions: New York Movie, Office at Night. Ultimately he derived from Winslow Homer, the great precisionist. Summer Interior (1909), a semi-nude in a boudoir, has a touch of Fauvism. Yonkers (1916) is an extreme study of electric blue shadows and yellow daylight.

Summer Interior
oil on canvas
1909

Apartment Houses, Harlem River
oil on canvas
ca. 1930

Apartment Houses, Harlem River shows the essence of the technique, part descriptive and part not. Faceless rectangular blocks march across the canvas and linger in grayness under a crepuscular sky and above a continuous sweep of pale aqua representing the river below the sweep of trees that appears more massively in Statue at Park Entrance above a winding sweep of allée around a statue in the foreground with visitors under a cloud-swirling sky.

Statue at Park Entrance
oil on canvas
1918-20

American Village (1912) is a Pissarro view of Main Street from a balcony by Degas, and it too is “going somewhere.”

American Village
oil on canvas
1912

His pictorial etchings are Whistler cuts or impressions of the hurly-burly.

 

His principal master was Robert Henri, that great painter who knew everything about painting worth knowing, whose skies come from Tuckerman and who was a great student of Whistler, with a touch of Boudin.

Around 1932, Hopper began a picture called November, Washington Square, and he finished it in 1959. You can see in it the urge toward classical perfection which characterized his later works. In 1908, he painted Tugboat with Black Smokestack. It suggests a memory of W.H. Overend’s famous Farragut at Mobile Bay in the smokestack, emitting golden smoke above a smaller stream from the steam whistle, with a white inverted lifeboat and an American flag ensign. Winslow Homer would have gasped at the translucence of the wave.

Tugboat with Black Smokestack
oil on canvas
1908

As a watercolorist, he produces the same effect, modulating (Rooftops, 1926) a lengthy shadow into light.

Rooftops
watercolor
1926

The El Station (1908) is a superfast Pissarro: a dark depot with recessive Whistler figures next to a triple-chimneyed building in a slant of sunlight, above a zoom of tracks in the foreground and a glint of rails.

 

The El Station
oil on canvas
1908

Add to this the proper study of Cézanne’s internal perspectives, a sense of humor and a penchant for sharp light.

 

John Singleton Copley and Thomas Sully (who taught John Singer Sargent to paint), Stuart Davis, who took off from Van Gogh into Matisse with Yellow Hills (1919)—a view from the rails right down to the bolts—and Edward Hopper, are an embarrassment of riches.

 

 

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