Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950


Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, District of Columbia

It is very difficult for me to contain my excitement today, as it is one of my personal top five favorite artists’ birthday! Happy Birthday to Edward Hopper, born on July 22nd, 1882, in Nyack, New York! Working in a relevantly new medium, American Realism, Hopper could be called a predecessor to Abstract Expressionism, due to the tone and intensity of his work. Each piece we are presented with by the artist is void of people or much action, placing the viewer into almost claustrophobic and empty spaces, and presenting us with  more of a psyche of the supposed life within the frame, as opposed to the actual reality of it, having an almost existential conversation between the viewer and the canvas. Hopper, born to Elizabeth Smith and Garret Hopper, was introduced to the arts early on in life, frequently visiting the theater, operas, and museums. His artistic abilities began to reveal themselves at an early age, when young Edward would spend most of his days by the river front of his booming small town, sketching arriving, departing, and in the process of being built boats. A career in the arts seemed to be developing, as already by the tender age of 10 Hopper began to sign and date his work. Upon graduating Nyack High School in 1899, Hopper’s parents, although supportive of his artistic aspirations, insisted that their son attended a school for illustration, as that would be a much more lucrative and better paying career choice; therefor, Hopper spent a year at the New York School of Illustration, before transferring to the New York School of Art. It was there that Hopper was instructed by Robert Henri, the leading artist in “The Eight” group, a collective of artists working in the short lived Ashcan movement. The “ash can”, a nickname given to the grouping, was coined by artist Art Young in 1916, and was in reference to the depiction of the grittier, less glamorized and deteriorating parts of New York and life in general. The group, although never formally rallied or wrote any manifestos, rebelled against the academic realism as well as Impressionism, and depicted their subjects in a much more darker, almost offensively real tones and color palette. The works of  Robert Henri, Everett Shinn, John Sloan,  George Luks, and William Glackens portrayed harsher reality of life, such as street kids, bloodied boxers in the fighting ring, clothes being dried on the clotheslineprostitutes alcoholics and crowded tenements. Due to the unforgiving and harsh nature of these works they were considered too harsh to be viewed by mainstream viewers. Due to Hopper’s realistic approach to his work, he was also categorized into the Ashcan movement, however, the artist never considered himself to be working within it, and resented being thought of as a part of it. While Henri’s vision was to portray the sometimes overlooked underbelly of real life, Hopper’s works’ tone was usually much more existential and philosophical, with a lighter color palette and much less human beings. Between 1906 and 1910 Hopper traveled to Europe three times, staying in Paris twice, where he discovered the works of the Impressionists, whose work he greatly admired. A trip to Amsterdam has revealed to him the works of Rembrandt, which he greatly admired, with Night Watch being one that left the greatest impression on Hopper, prompting him to state that the work is “the most wonderful thing of his I have seen, it’s past belief in its reality – it almost amounts to deception.” This is an important revelation for Hopper, as the influence of Rembrandt’s realism in his works in clearly evident in Hopper’s own. Although Hopper was earning a living with illustration work, he never really enjoyed it, and it would not be for twenty years that the artist finally saw acclaim for his work, but that is not to say that he was living in complete artistic obscurity. In 1913 Hopper sold his first painting, Sailing (1911) at the infamous Army Show, for $250. It wasn’t until 11 year later that he would make another sale, this time while participating in a show at the Brooklyn Museum, where he exhibited six watercolor works, one of which, The Mansard roof (1923) was bought by the museum for $100.  In 1924 Hopper’s life finally took a turn for the artistic better, when he had a solo show at the Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery in New York City. The show sold out, and the gallery continued to represent Hopper until the end of his life, enabling the artist to finally give up illustrating for good. Hopper’s iconic style began to emerge from this point on, migrating from scenes of isolation and loneliness to sun drenched streets and light houses on coastal beaches of Maine. In 1930 Hopper made a sale to the newly established Museum of Modern Art with his painting House by the Railroad (1925), and in 1933 the museum showed a retrospective of Hopper’s work. Edward Hopper was a fanatical lover of the cinema, having seen his firm moving picture in Paris in 1909. He would state later on in life that “When I don’t feel in the mood for painting, I go to the movies for a week or more. I go on a regular movie binge.” This is interesting to note, considering that Hopper’s earlier moody and starkly isolating work was a major inspiration for the 1940s film noir cinema, as well as movies in general. Edward Hopper inspired countless of other artists, filmmakers, photographers and writers, and continues to serve as an inspiration for all creative minds worldwide. Pictured here is Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning, 1950, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington, District of Columbia.

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