Edward Hopper (born – 22nd July in 1882, died – 15th May in 1967), is one of the most prominent 20th century American Realist painters, born to a middle-class family in Newyork. Edward Hopper painted scenes of everyday routine in an American Life; lovely roads, offices, apartments, restaurants, predominantly, on a dark palette. 

Hopper once quoted, “In general, it can be said that a nation’s art is greatest when it most reflects the character of its people,” and he abided by his work around the following words. 

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Edward Hopper ©edwardhopper.net

His landscapes and cityscapes engraved the life and works of ordinary society. They portrayed the actuality of human beings, the overwhelming silences in life’s most fundamental activities. Some of his best-known works contain oil paintings, but he was also prolifically proficient as a watercolourist and a printmaker. 

From New-England towns to Newyork city’s modest architecture, Edward Hopper captured it all. Some of his paintings are mysteriously melancholy because he always sketched isolated figures. They are said to depict the shadows of his temperament. 

Early Life:

He had a comfortable childhood, with his parents in support of his art career. Edward Hopper had been a good student since grade school. He demonstrated immense talent in drawing from the age of five, wherein, his sketches include charcoal drawings of geometric shapes such as a cup, a vase, a bowl, etc. 

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Earliest signed drawing by Edward Hopper (1893) ©Wikipedia.org

During the years 1900-1906, he enrolled at the NY School of Art, wherein, he experimented with his works from illustrations to fine arts. Hopper detested illustrations but was eventually constrained with them until the mid-1920s because of monetary necessities. Often, individuals quote that Edward Hopper was remarkably inclined towards the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. As a child and a college student, he used to read his words, again and again. In his later years, he admitted that his words helped him find a way to his art. 

After graduating, between 1906-1910, Edward Hopper travelled internationally, three times, which build an incredible impact on his art career. The three trips he went on were destined in Europe, specifically Paris. The city, its history, traditions, culture, art, architecture, and lights are considered decisive parameters for his growth, both, as an individual and an artist. 

During his tour in 1906, Paris was considered the artistic centre of the western globe, and no other city was as persuasive as Paris for the rise of modern art. Through the same period, Picasso became one of the most integral artists by co-founding the cubist movement. He painted the legendary “Les Demoiselles d’avignon” in 1907. Still, Hopper later alleged that he never knew about Picasso or the evolution. 

Hopper may not have known about the art movement in Paris, but certainly got to know about Impressionists such as Van Gogh and Monet. One can identify the difference of his persuasions from when he painted Old Interiors in Newyork as a student; the dark strokes of past belief guided by European artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Diego Velazquez, and the light and quick strokes after his encounter with Impressionism. 

His excursions to Paris led him to generate art that stemmed from nature and manifested his particular attractions. The light and the architecture in the paintings encompass more drama and revolve around a specific theme. He returned the painting with a misty palette soon after because according to him, it was more comfortable and satisfying. 

Throughout his college life, the tours, and his later career, Hopper remained fascinated with realist art, and hence composed scenes from cafés and streets with enticing architecture. 

The cycles of Struggle – What components kindled the artist’s philosophy, and how did he become the remarkable 20th-century realist painter?

Every artist holds a story behind their best works. Some have a cauldron filled with struggles, depression, and discontent, while others have glorifying inception with years of accomplishments. In the case of Edward Hopper, the first expression is accurate. 

After returning from Paris in 1910, Hopper rented a studio in Newyork city, to define art as his custom. He fought his way through for almost a decade, where recognition and art, both did not come easily to him. During the primary 1920s, Hopper had to start with illustration again to fund himself. 

According to his fellow friends and illustrators, Edward Hopper was unable to decide what to put on a canvas, and sometimes, the emotional state would carry on for months before he could raise his hand to hold the brush again. 

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Night on the El Train in etchings (1918) ©Wikipedia.org
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Edward Hoppers prize-winning poster design called Smash the Hun (1919) ©Wikipedia.org

Between 1910 to 1920s, Hopper worked as an illustrator in diverse magazines and agencies as a freelancer, designing posters for theatricals and movies, which eventually influenced form compositions for his paintings. He also tried selling his paintings in exhibitions throughout these years. They encompassed a few self-portraits, oil-paintings, etching works, and murals, but could not project a significant light on them. 

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Painting in etching-Night Shadows (1921) ©smithsonianmag.com

By 1923, Hopper produced most of his works in etching that received some public recognition. They included urban scenes from both Newyork and Paris and made a dire impact on his upcoming artworks. But, Edward Hopper’s actual breakthrough arose after his many years of endeavour and marriage with Josephine Nivison. She was a former student of Robert Henri and an artist herself, but after marrying him, managed all his interviews, and was also his primary model. 

Edward Hopper obtained his very first open invite for a one-person exhibit at the age of 37. The following exhibition, held at Whitney Club featured sixteen of his supreme samples of art. This exhibition proved to be a quintessential step towards his career because it helped him become a more notable and known individual amongst realist painters. 

After this point, his art marched towards the light and acknowledgment he deserved. His second stand-alone exhibit, held at the Frank KM Rehn Gallery in Newyork city, attracted a substantial crowd because now art enthusiasts were aware of the work Edward Hopper shaped. 

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The Mansard Roof (1923) ©smithsonianmag.com

His paintings depicted one particular element; his love and attraction for Parisian and American urban and rural architecture. Many of his critics defined his various urbanscapes as “direct and vital.” In many of his interviews, Edward Hopper admitted that one of his favourite elements to capture while painting these houses was the “sunlight.” He loved the effect of sunlight and the shadows that different architectural components like porches, columns, towers, mansard roofs, etc. cast. 

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A painting from1913 where he introduces a New York Cities corner with a motif of red brick buildings and a pattern of open and closed windows ©smithsonianmag.com

Some of his famous paintings include “House by the Railroad,” “The Nighthawks,” “Lighthouse Hill,” etc. All these artworks have highly identifiable and a mature outlook towards the mundane things of life. His urbanscapes and landscapes that included the exterior and interior architecture, the empty silences and a momentary effect created a sense of minimalism and modernism, which was apprehended and admired by many.   

The Themes of Edward Hopper’s Paintings- Was Loneliness a root of his brilliance? 

An introverted man when seen from the outside, Edward Hopper surprisingly contained a gentle sense of humour and straightforward mannerisms. “The picture painted touches you where you feel most vulnerable,” is what his paintings generally portray. Individuals claim that precarious encounters and the characteristics of isolation captivated him. And, one can easily see what the art enthusiasts meant. 

Let us consider the paradigm of one of his most famous artworks, the Nighthawks. Although he is known to paint his subjects either solo or in groups of two, the Nighthawks is painting with a gathering of four people, sitting in an all-night diner. The perspective of the viewer here is cinematic. The interaction between the subjects is minimum, with shockingly harsh lighting in the restaurant, setting it different against its dark surroundings. The difference in illumination sets a subtle mood, where one can easily focus on the melancholy enacted by his subjects. 

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The infamous Nighthawk by Edward Hopper ©artic.edu

According to Hopper, the inspiration for the painting may have arrived from the short story “The Killer” by Ernest Hemingway, but the audience interpreted it in an entirely discrete style. In reality, the painting is stimulated by “a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet.” 

The mood of the composition, per the audience, sometimes reflects the expression of wartime anxiety. The congregation of the three customers is a timeless and mundane activity. But everyone seems lost in thoughts of their own. This unique piece of art is the unhindered inception of human isolation and urban emptiness. 

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Cape Cod Morning painted in 1950 ©smithsonianmag.com

Other than the coherent ascertainment of solitude and desolation, Edward Hoppers chose poignant ideas like monotony, regret, and abandonment. He focused on these themes and displayed them in varying environments such as offices, empty hotel rooms, on the road, and other public spaces. 

Most of his paintings with solo subjects incorporated women (mostly performed by his wife) in either a dressed, nude, or semi-nude form. His artworks like Automat (released in 1927) and Hotel Room (completed in 1931) represent a balance that emphasizes the lonesome.  

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Automat (1927) ©edwardhopper.net

Overall, the choice of his background, the colours, and the places somehow always felt impulsive. People say that the artist was locked in a constant battle with a chronic dullness, which he eventually used as an urge to paint. 

Through the decades that Edward Hopper continued to paint, the artistic scene evolved, with abstract as the most influential, but he never disembarked his intimate knowledge. He did not tamper with his inner intuitions or his vision. He painted the feeling most familiar to humans; our profound connection to this existence, and the seclusion of the self. 

Till his demise in 1967, Edward Hopper had gained a dominant appeal and declared his artistic talents to become a prominent American Realist Artist.

Ansha Kohli
Author

Ansha Kohli is whimsical andenigmatic when it comes to her life. Wanting to pursue a career in architecture journalism after completing her graduation, she is on the road to seek something new and exciting, and subsequently enthusiastic to share as well as understand different philosophies associated with art and architecture.

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