Thursday, November 19, 2009

Edward Hopper, "If you could say it, there would be no reason to paint it."

"Great art  is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist,  and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. 
Edward Hopper , American Painter (1882--1967)  

Edward Hopper was the quintessential realist painter
of twentieth-century America. His images have become
 part of the very grain and texture of American experience,
 and even today, thirty years after his death, it is all but
impossible to see America without some
refraction through them.--Robert Hughes 

In January of 1982,  I was lucky enough to get to see a major exhibition of the paintings of Edward Hopper at the Veterans Hall in San Francisco. It was part of a national tour celebrating the centenary of the man who had become a great "realist" painter.  But, like most shorthand media "tags", realism doesn't begin to describe a great painter's works.   
  Although I had been exposed to European Art and the American modernists like Roy Licthenstein and Andy Warhol as part of a general education, this was the first time I saw a major American painter  that  I was drawn yo.   I was taken by how "American" Hopper was, and by this I do not mean Yankee Doodle Dandy patriotic.  I had no idea what Hopper's politics were, how many mistresses he had or didn't have, or who else liked him and who didn't. I didn't care.  
Hopper's  streets and avenues, his hotels and lunch counters, those Midwestern and coastal landscapes drenched in bright sunlight or dark urbanity--all this was like stills from a fantastic documentary that seemed more real than any movie could recreate from the all dream factories of Hollywood.  This was an America people and their world caught out when no one thought anyone was looking.   

Here was a visionary painter who captured the introspective emotions, reflective ennui and quiet tensions in the lives of  of ordinary people.  They were figures from the past, walking and working or just sitting in a bygone America of the "Roaring Twenties/The Great Depression and the times of post-War prosperity. As a young man Hopper had first travelled to Paris before the war to perfect his craft. BUt by the Twenties he was back in America and the bulk of his greatest works were done in his home country.  

I've gone back to Hopper since then in art books, prints and documentaries. He is a true maverick, like Henri Rousseau and Cezanne were in France.  And real mavericks in art are rare indeed.  

The short film below gives an impression of his artwork.


  1. Here's some more images of Hopper, with his visions enhanced by one of the great composers of all times.

  2. The first painting I know all to well but I never realized whom it came from....this truly very interesting Doug I literally would have never known whom had painted these. Very rare but at the same time most interesting with regards to the man behind this art....

  3. "Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world." Great quote this truly has substance.

  4. "Nighthawks", painted in 1942, is one of the most reproduced of all Hopper's works. I love the way he seems to paint human introspection. And ,as Steve Martin suggests in the short film, when he paints couples together there is a trace of a narrative package left to the viewer to unwrap. Thanks for your comments Jack.

  5. It really sums up the reason people enjoy art---that there is a presence behind the work which we recognize as familar to us, yet unique to another .

  6. This is where there is really value. He was much different to most painters as you mentioned, he was literally painting ordinary life and people...

  7. I have "known" of Edward Hopper's work via prints and books etc. I really like his work and I agree that it looks quintessentially "American" (from a Kiwi perspective anyhow lol). Truly a great artist. thanks Doug.

  8. I was never a fan of Warhol. If Mr Hopper was a dry white wine, Warhol seems like a Lambrusco that has been left on top of the washing machine whilst it was on.
    I like the stark, honest reality of this painter and I really like the way that he makes the sunlight so authentic. That can't be an easy thing to do.

  9. Glad you like Hopper's work, Iri Ani. I always wonder how well my favorite artists "travel" in foreign countries.

  10. Glad you like Hopper's work, Iri Ani. I always wonder how well my favorite artists "travel" in foreign countries.

  11. LOL! I agree with you on Warhol, Oakie. If ever an artist played on hype above craft, its that guy.

    Hopper once said "All I wanted to do was paint the sunlight as it fell on a horse." An exaggeration, of course, but the sunlight he creates in his landscapes and those scenes of early morning in small-town America is brilliant!

  12. It is brilliant. I have never been struck so profoundly by the sunlight in paintings before.

  13. I too am an admirer of Hopper (does anyone NOT like his art I wonder?)...his documentary images of America speak to me of that world written about by John Steinbeck and maybe even Jack Kerouac.
    American modernity minus the darkness. I think his work is particularly appealing now because it depicts images that are both realistic and yet also very comforting, a sense of nostalgia for a lost 'innocence' pervades the way it appears to us today I think.
    Having said that, I would not want to compare him with Warhol, Pollock or Lichtenstein though, who I also think are great American artists for exactly opposite reasons.... 'unrealism' you might say?

    Excellent review of Hopper's work Doug thanks for posting this tribute to a captivating artist from a time when we could almost imagine America (and the world) was a better place.

    A pictorial escapism that echoes the attraction of America as a mythical land of freedom and 'success', the immigrants dream on canvas.