Edward Hopper’s New York
Whitney Museum of American Art
October 19, 2022 – March 5, 2023
Reviewed by Ed Voves
Original Photography by Anne Lloyd
Robert Henri (1865-1929), the dean of the Ashcan School, was a fount of encouragement to his many students at the New York School of Design.
"Paint what you feel. Paint what you see. Paint what is real to you."
Henri's lecture points were enthusiastically received by the likes of George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Rockwell Kent and Man Ray. Some students require additional encouragement, however, and Henri offered a well-intended suggestion to an intense, buttoned-down young man from Nyack, New York.
"Go to the theater," Henri advised Edward Hopper.
If Henri thought that Hopper would engage with the rough and tumble of life after watching it on the stage, he was mistaken. Hopper certainly took Henri's advice about going to the theater. But he remained a distant observer, focusing on ironic details of human existence which other painters scarcely noticed.
Edward Hopper’s New York is an exhibition which only the Whitney could have mounted. After Hopper died in 1967, his widow Josephine bequeathed a vast number of sketches, prints and paintings to the Whitney. More recently, a trove of Hopper's notebooks, ledgers, letters, newspaper clippings and, incredibly, theater ticket stubs have entered the Whitney's archival collection.
Over the years, the Whitney has organized numerous exhibitions of Hopper's work, more than justifying Josephine Hopper's choice of that museum to be the steward of her husband's art. Now relocated from its former "Museum Mile" site to Gansevort Street in the Meat Packing district, the Whitney's new location is much more in keeping with the ambiance of New York City as Hopper knew it. An added bonus is the spectacular view from the terrace of the Whitney's restaurant of the Hudson River and New York harbor with Lady Liberty holding her torch aloft. I think even Hopper would have been impressed.
Hopper was much more than a New York City artist, of course. After leaving the exhibit, a visitor to the Whitney has only to take the elevator up a floor to explore the museum's permanent collection. Here one can see Hopper paintings dealing with his Paris years, his summers in New England and travels around the U.S.
New York was the city which Hopper knew best and, in his unsentimental way, loved. It was the center of his artistic universe. Yet, it only became so by a process of patient adaptation to the many moods of the Big City.
In his earliest days as an art student and working illustrator, Hopper commuted to New York from Nyack. He traveled by train, ferry and elevated transit lines. It was a daily grind but it provided him with long intervals to study the real New York: gritty, crowded, hard-edged, care-worn - and proud.
The Whitney exhibit recalls the the young Hopper's experience of arriving in an urban environment which was ever in flux. Hopper's 1946 masterpiece, Approaching a City, is juxtaposed with a video of a 1916 silent film, New York City (From an Elevated Railroad).
Mounted Cop, executed in pen and ink and graphite pencil on paper, is a marvelous work. It is a true portrait without a hint of caricature. Every aspect of this remarkable drawing speaks to having been sketched - at least in its first stage - from life.
Determined, if disgruntled, the police officer casts a wary eye, peering out from under the peak of his cap. He sits astride his horse, brilliantly suggested by the merest outline of its flanks. A few, slanting lines capture the effect of the pelting rain which, sooner or later, will seep though his poncho.
Numerous examples of Hopper's skill in depicting New Yorkers, native and newcomers, are on view in the opening galleries of the exhibit.
These include an elderly chap battling a headwind as he trudges up the steps of a brownstone, playgoers absorbed in one of the dramas Hopper attended and a "slice-of-life" scene of two "gents" sealing a deal over a coffee and brandy.
Hopper's early self-portrait, dating to some point during the years 1903-06, likewise, demonstrates a high level of accomplishment. A skillful handling of skin tones and unblinking insight into his own rather forbidding persona shows that Hopper could have secured a place near the top rank of American portrait painters, had he wanted to take that career path.
Hopper's choice lay elsewhere, as we know. But one of the many strengths of the Whitney exhibit is the way that it allows us to follow Hopper's dwindling interest in the unique likenesses of the people around him. Following this, we are enabled to trace his deepening engagement with the human dilemma on a wider, more cosmic level.
Hopper's initial steps in that direction began when he devoted himself to etching around 1915. His sensational skill in printmaking resulted in such masterpieces as the haunting Night Shadows created in 1921. The 1920's and 1930's would prove to be the golden age of American printmaking, with Hopper setting a standard of excellence which others, notably Louis Lozowick and Martin Lewis, would rival but not surpass.
Edward Hopper, Night Shadows, 1921These brilliant etchings are also significant in showing the path which Hopper's oil painting was taking him, deeper and deeper into uncharted realms of emotional isolation and unspoken desire.
The 1920's were the brash years of American exuberance. Hopper, however, caught a counter-veiling note to the Jazz Age. In Automat, the frantic pace and chronic loneliness of life in the 20th century is indelibly expressed. Hopper definitively portrays the modern condition where individualism translates into being "a face in the crowd."
Automat was painted in 1927, the year of Charles Lindbergh's one-man flight across the Atlantic Ocean. While newspaper headlines exulted over the Lone Eagle's heroics, this stylish young "flapper" looks less-than-pleased about "flying solo" through life.
Some clues to her discontent are obvious, the empty chair, the receding reflections of the overhead lights. But the most telling detail is the fact that she has removed only one glove.
In modern day America, you can get a cup of coffee anytime your want. But don't bother to take both gloves off. Drink-up and keep moving. There is no place of rest on the daily treadmill of existence.
Hopper's switch from magazine illustration to painting was well-timed. As the 1920's progressed, photography increasingly gained the upper-hand in the publishing world and commercial opportunities for artists began to decline.
By the late 1920's, Hopper's emphasis on realism and figurative painting had secured the interest of wealthy patrons like Stephen Clark. A signal event was the donation by Clark in 1930 of Hopper's House by the Railroad to the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, which had opened its doors the year before.
The House by the Railroad (which reputedly served as the model for the Bates Hotel in the Hitchcock film, Psycho) is not included in the Whitney exhibition. But another mysterious dwelling is prominently displayed, House at Dusk (1935), from the collection of the Virginia Museum of Art.
I had never previously seen House at Dusk and was really intrigued by this haunting work of art. Hopper contrasted the setting sun with the lights shinning forth from some of the apartment windows, while others remained darkened or dimly lit. A pavement stairway extends off into the menacing darkness of the nearby park.
With these brilliant effects, Hopper created a setting that is both reassuring - the beckoning glow of house lights - and unsettling.
House at Dusk evidently struck a chord with the visitors to the exhibit. There always seemed to be a big crowd in front of it. At one point, a father was showing the painting to his toddler in the stroller. I was both charmed and bemused. How do you explain a picture of mystery to a child - or to anyone?
Every person will have there on theories about a Hopper painting. That explains his continuing popularity. Which brings up another salient point about the Whitney's exhibition. Edward Hopper’s New York was mobbed on the day Anne and I visited.
Text: Copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved. Original Photos: Anne Lloyd, All rights reserved
Images of Edward Hopper's paintings, drawings and prints from the Whitney Museum of American Art and other U.S. museums are © 2022 Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's Self-Portrait, 1925–30. Oil on canvas: 25 3/8 × 20 3/8 in. (64.5 × 51.8 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art,New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1165.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's Two on the Aisle, 1927. Oil on canvas: 40 1/8 x 48 1/4 in. (101.9 x 122.5 cm). Toledo Museum of Art, OH; purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment; gift of Edward Drummond Libbey
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of Edward Hopper's New York, showing a selection of Hopper’s ticket stubs. The Sanborn Hopper Archive at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Frances Mulhall Achilles Library and Archives, New York; gift of the Arthayer R. Sanborn Hopper Collection Trust
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) View of the Hudson River and New York Harbor from the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Detail of Edward Hopper's Blackwell's Island, 1911. Oil on canvas, 24 3/8 × 29 5/16 in. (61.9 × 74.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1188
Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967) Approaching a City, 1946. Oil on canvas: 27 1/18 x 36 in. (68.9 x 91.4 cm) The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC; acquired 1947.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of Edward Hopper's New York, showing the silent film, New York City (From an Elevated Railroad), c. 1916, 4:37 min. National Archives and Records Administration, Washington D.C.; Ford Motor Company Collection
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's Mounted Cop, 1899–1906. Pen & ink and graphite pencil on paper: 10 5/8 x 8 5/16 in. (27 x 21.1 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.630 a-b
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's New York and Its Houses, c.1906–10. Brush and ink, transparent and opaque watercolor, and graphite pencil on paper: 21 13/16 x 14 13/16 in. (55.4 x 37.6 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1347
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Detail of Edward Hopper's The Balcony, 1928. Drypoint:Sheet: 13 x 16 15/16 in. (33 x 43 cm); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1058
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Detail of Edward Hopper's In a Restaurant, c. 1916–25. Charcoal on paper: 26 11/16 x 21 5/8 in. (67.8 x 54.9 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1449
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's Self-Portrait, 1903-06. Oil on canvas: 25 15/16 x 22 1/8 in. (65.9 x 56.2 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1253
Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967) Night Shadows, 1921. Etching: Sheet: 12 x 15 15/16 in. (30.5 x 40.5 cm. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.1047
Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967) Automat, 1927. Oil on canvas, 28 1/8 × 35 in. (71.4 × 88.9 cm). Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa; purchased with funds from the Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc. © 2022 Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper/Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photograph by Rich Sanders, Des Moines, Iowa
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Detail of Edward Hopper's Automat, 1927.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Details of Edward Hopper's House at Dusk, 1935. Oil on canvas: 36 1/4 x 50 in. (92.1 x 127 cm) Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; John Barton Payne Fund
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of Edward Hopper's New York at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's Room in New York, 1932. Oil on canvas, 29 × 36 in. (73.7 × 91.4 cm). Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska—Lincoln; Anna R. and Frank M. Hall Charitable Trust.
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Detail of Edward Hopper's New York Movie, 1939. Oil on canvas: 32 1/4 x 40 1/8 in. (81.9 x 101.9 cm) The Museum of Modern Art, New York; given anonymously
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's Study for New York Movie, 1939. Fabricated chalk and charcoal on paper:15 x 11 1/8in. (38.1 x 28.3 cm) Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Josephine N. Hopper Bequest 70.455
Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Edward Hopper's Intermission, 1963. Oil on canvas: 40 x 60 in. (101.6 cm x 152.4 cm) San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; purchase in memory of Elaine McKeon,with funds provided in part by the Fisher and Schwab Families, and an anonymous donor.