Edward Hopper
September 16, 2007 – January 21, 2008
East Building, Upper Level and Mezzanine, Northeast, and Upper Level, North Bridge
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    New York Corner (Corner Saloon), 1913, oil on canvas, Private Collection; Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Martha Parrish & James Reinish, Inc., New York



    Hopper's earliest artistic success came by way of his watercolors and etchings, rather than the oil paintings for which he is now best known. Lacking buyers for his canvases, Hopper reluctantly worked as a commercial illustrator. In 1915 he discovered etching, a medium that made economic sense (multiple prints could be sold of a single image) and also permitted the artistic freedom he craved. Hopper's etchings signal themes the artist would explore throughout his career: isolated figures, empty streets, strong contrasts between light and shadow, and the play of sunlight on architecture.


    Although Hopper's etchings are primarily drawn from urban subjects, he chose watercolor to depict his early small-town or rural images. Encouraged by his fellow art student and future wife Josephine (Jo) Nivison, Hopper began using watercolor in earnest when summering in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the early 1920s. The portability of the medium allowed Hopper to paint outdoors, where he favored local architecture to the picturesque coastal scenes that had made the region a popular artists' colony. His depictions of New England garnered Hopper important recognition: in 1923 his first sale to a public institution (the Brooklyn Museum's purchase of The Mansard Roof) and in 1924 a solo exhibition at Frank Rehn's Fifth Avenue gallery that sold out quickly. Critics admired his deft handling of the medium, straightforward style, and ability to transform vernacular architecture into something beautiful.

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    American Landscape, 1920, etching, Print Purchase Fund (Rosenwald Collection) and Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1979.64.1

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    East Side Interior, 1922, etching, 8 Rosenwald Collection, 1949.5.71

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    Apartment Houses, 1923, oil on canvas, Courtesy of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, John Lambert Fund

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    Self-Portrait, 1925-1930, oil on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Josephine N. Hopper Bequest © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photograph by Robert E. Mates.

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    The Mansard Roof, 1923, watercolor over graphite on paper, Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 23.100



    Throughout his career, New England—first Gloucester, later Maine, and finally Cape Cod—was the source for much of Hopper's subject matter. These coastal communities were popular destinations for artists, but the independent-minded Hopper remained distant from his colleagues, dryly noting, "[W]hen everyone else would be painting ships and the waterfront, I'd just go around looking at houses." He had a penchant for architectural styles of past centuries, especially the Victorian with its heavy ornamentation and mansard roofs. He rendered these houses with dramatic light and often in isolation. Along the coast of Maine, where Hopper visited in the late 1920s, he painted lighthouses, solitary beacons amid the landscape. Full of intrigue and mystery, Hopper's lighthouses surpass their utilitarianism and assume a commanding presence—no longer mere incidental structures like those in the seascapes of other artists.


    Beginning in 1930, Hopper and Jo (who wed in 1924) spent summers on Cape Cod, where the couple eventually built a house and studio in the town of Truro. There, Hopper's style became more geometric, perhaps inspired by the architecture of the region's saltbox constructions. Always a realist painter, and critical of many modernist trends, Hopper nonetheless inched toward abstraction in these simplified compositions that experimented with the interplay of color, form, and light. For Hopper, however, architecture was never reducible to mere form—it always remained in dialogue with nature. As the artist plainly remarked later in his career, "What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house."

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    Haskell's House, 1924, watercolor over graphite on paperboard, Gift of Herbert A. Goldstone, 1996.130.2

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    Hodgkin's House, 1928, oil on canvas, Anonymous Collector

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    Coast Guard Station, 1929, oil on canvas, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey; Museum Purchase, Picture Buying Fund

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    Marshall's House, 1932, watercolor over graphite on paper, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut; Purchased through the Gift of Henry and Walter Keney © Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art.

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    From Williamsburg Bridge [Williamsburg Bridge], 1928, oil on canvas, Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, George A. Hearn Fund, 1937 Photograph © 1989 The Metropolitan Museum of Art.



    Although Hopper regularly visited New England, Greenwich Village (where he lived in the same apartment from 1913 until his death in 1967) was home, and New York set the stage for many of his most iconic paintings. Just as he in New England shunned dominant artistic motifs, Hopper disregarded many Jazz Age subjects—soaring skyscrapers, bustling streets, and industrial machinery—favored by American modernists. Indeed, Hopper's New York is at once instantly recognizable and strangely unfamiliar: streets are devoid of pedestrians, stores are without customers, and even automats—modern restaurants in which coin-operated, food-dispensing machines replaced waiters—lack signs of anything automatic. And though New York architecture rose to great new heights, Hopper favored instead a horizontal compositional format more closely linked to landscape traditions. He also avoided signs of the grit, noise, and commotion of urban life, imbuing his portrayals of the city with an overwhelming silence and disquieting stillness.

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    Chop Suey, 1929, oil on canvas, Collection of Barney A. Ebsworth

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    Early Sunday Morning, 1930, oil on canvas, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Photograph by Steven Sloman.

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    Room in New York, 1932, oil on canvas, Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, UNL- F.M. Hall Collection Photograph © Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery

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    New York Movie, 1939, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Given anonymously, 1941 Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

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    Sunday, 1926, oil on canvas, The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC



    Emptiness and silence pervade Hopper's scenes. New Yorkers find themselves alone in the supposed privacy of their homes and hotel rooms, but also in the public realm of restaurants, lobbies, theaters, and the street. In New England, houses and lighthouses stand secluded on hillsides or along the coast. In Gas, a scene from Truro, a lone attendant adjusts the nozzle at a deserted rural filling station. The lanky figure (not unlike that of the artist) echoes the form of each pump, whose progression in the center of the canvas leads the viewer down the empty country road. In other works, the presence of additional figures—a fellow diner, traveller, colleague, or spouse—only renders the isolation more acute by unfulfilled promises of true companionship.


    Hopper's paintings invite endless interpretation; they have been variously described as representations of loneliness, alienation, melancholy, or solitude. Hopper, however, cast doubt on such readings, noting, "the loneliness thing is overdone." Over the years when prompted, he offered several explanations for his paintings, often defining them in personal terms: "Great art," he wrote, "is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world."

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    Automat, 1927, oil on canvas, Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from the Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc. Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections. Photograph by Michael Tropea, Chicago.

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    Hotel Room, 1931, oil on canvas, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid © Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

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    Room in Brooklyn, 1932, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Hayden Collection © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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    Gas, 1940, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mrs. Simon Guggenheim Fund, 1943 Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

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    Drug Store, 1927, oil on canvas, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Bequest of John T. Spaulding © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.



    Throughout his career, Hopper was fascinated by dramatic lighting and nowhere is this more evident than in his nighttime pictures, where brightly lit interiors contrast with the darkness outside. Glowing fluorescent or electrical lights, which illuminate windows and spill onto otherwise darkened street, set the tone for many of Hopper's paintings and imbue the works with an air of mystery. The voyeuristic possibilities inherent in the modern city, where people lived in close proximity but often with anonymity—are especially apparent at night. Hopper frequently depicted stolen glances from fast-moving elevated trains and glimpses from windows into neighboring buildings, where figures are busy with their own private concerns, unaware or unconcerned that they are being watched.

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    Night Windows, 1928, oil on canvas, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of John Hay Whitney, 1940 Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY

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    House at Dusk, 1935, oil on canvas, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, The John Barton Payne Fund © Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Photograph by Katherine Wetzel.

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    Office at Night, 1940, oil on canvas, Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund, 1948

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    Nighthawks, 1942, oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection, 1942.51 Reproduction, The Art Institute of Chicago. Photograph by Robert Hashimoto.

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: 48 paintings, 34 watercolors, and 12 prints from the National Gallery of Art and other public and private collections were presented in this survey of the career of American artist Edward Hopper. Two of the artist's ledger books on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art also were on view. The exhibition was arranged chronologically and thematically in seven sections: prints, early work and Gloucester, the city, Maine, Truro, figures, and late work. The exhibition was the first comprehensive survey of the artist's work to be seen outside New York City in more than 25 years.

Lectures were presented on September 16 by exhibition curators Franklin Kelly and Carol Troyen. An audio guide was narrated by National Gallery of Art Director Earl A. Powell III and included commentary by the exhibition curators. Three illustrated talks in October and November examined the relationship between Hopper and the cinema. A family weekend featuring a drama commissioned for grades 3 through 6, Who's in the Hopper, was held in November, and a teacher workshop was presented in December.

Later the Same Evening: An Opera Inspired by Five Paintings of Edward Hopper, by composer John Musto with libretto by Mark Campbell, was performed at the National Gallery of Art on December 2, 2007. The opera was a joint project of the National Gallery of Art, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, and the University of Maryland School of Music. It was performed by singers from the Maryland Opera Studio and the National Gallery Orchestra. A discussion with the composer, librettist, and cast followed the performance at the National Gallery. Four additional performances were presented at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in November.

Edward Hopper, a documentary film narrated by actor Steve Martin, was produced by the National Gallery of Art for the exhibition. The film was shown daily throughout the afternoon in the East Building Small Auditorium and once each day on Tuesday and Wednesday in the East Building Auditorium. A short version of the film was shown continuously within the exhibition.

A gigantic exhibition banner for the exhibition was hung on the Verizon Center facing 7th and G Streets NW in Washington DC during October.

Organization: The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Art Institute of Chicago. Curators were Carol Troyen, John Moore Cabot Curator of American Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Franklin Kelly, senior curator, American and British paintings, National Gallery of Art; and Judith Barter, the Field-McCormick Chair of American Art at The Art Institute of Chicago.

Sponsor: The exhibition and the podcast were made possible by Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. The film was supported by the HRH Foundation.

Attendance: 365,060

Catalog: Edward Hopper, by Carol Troyen, Judith A. Barter, Janet L. Comey, Elliot Bostwick Davis, and Ellen E. Roberts. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts Publishers, 2007.

Brochure: Edward Hopper. Washington DC: National Gallery of Art, 2007.

Other Venues: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, May 6–August 19, 2007
Art Institute of Chicago, February 16–May 11, 2008

Image: Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Evening, 1939, oil on canvas, John Hay Whitney Collection, 1982.76.6

Related Artists

Audio and Video

Wyeth Lecture in American Art: Ground Swell: Edward Hopper in 1939
Video, Released: November 17, 2007, (52:13 minutes)
The Mystique of Edward Hopper
Audio, Released: October 1, 2007, (11:46 minutes)
Edward Hopper's New York
Video, Released: October 1, 2007, (8:34 minutes)
Edward Hopper
Audio, Released: September 11, 2007, (9:06 minutes)
Press Event: Edward Hopper
Audio, Released: September 11, 2007, (34:33 minutes)
Press Event: Edward Hopper
Audio, Released: September 11, 2007, (20:52 minutes)
Hopper Meets Opera in Later the Same Evening
Audio, Released: September 3, 2007, (7:04 minutes)
Telling the Edward Hopper Story
Audio, Released: September 3, 2007, (7:37 minutes)