Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was a
prominent American realist painter and printmaker. While he was most popularly
known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and
printmaker in etching. Both in his urban and rural scenes, his spare and
finely calculated renderings reflected his personal vision of modern American
Personality and vision
Always reluctant to discuss himself and his art, Hopper simply summed up his art
by stating, "The whole answer is there on the canvas." Hopper was stoic and
fatalistic—a quiet introverted man with a gentle sense of humor and a frank manner.
Conservative in politics and social matters, he accepted things as they were and
displayed a lack of idealism. Cultured and sophisticated, he was well-read, and
many of his paintings show figures reading. He was generally good company and
unperturbed by silences, though sometimes taciturn, grumpy or detached. He was
always serious about his art and the art of others, and when asked would return
Hopper's most systematic declaration of his philosophy as an artist was given in
a handwritten note, entitled "Statement", submitted in 1953 to the journal,
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. No amount of skillful
invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses
of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human
intellect for a private imaginative conception.
The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern
itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design.
The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it
implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun
Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature's
phenomena before it can again become great.
Though Hopper claimed that he didn't consciously embed psychological meaning in
his paintings, he was deeply interested in Freud and the power of the subconscious
mind. He wrote in 1939, "So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious
that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there
unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect.
Although he is best known for his oil paintings, Hopper initially achieved
recognition for his watercolors and he also produced some commercially successful
etchings. Additionally, his notebooks contain high-quality pen and pencil sketches,
which were never meant for public viewing.
Hopper paid particular attention to geometrical design and the careful placement
of human figures in proper balance with their environment. He was a slow and
methodical artist; as he wrote, "It takes a long time for an idea to strike. Then I
have to think about it for a long time. I don't start painting until I have it all
worked out in my mind. I'm all right when I get to the easel". He often made
preparatory sketches to work out his carefully calculated compositions. He and his
wife kept a detailed ledger of their works noting such items as "sad face of woman
unlit", "electric light from ceiling", and "thighs cooler".
For New York Movie (1939), Hopper demonstrates his thorough preparation with
more than 53 sketches of the theater interior and the figure of the pensive
The effective use of light and shadow to create mood also is central to Hopper's
methods. Bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows
it casts, also play symbolically powerful roles in Hopper paintings such as Early
Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty
Room (1963). His use of light and shadow effects have been compared to the
cinematography of film noir.
Although a realist painter, Hopper's "soft" realism simplified shapes and
details. He used saturated color to heighten contrast and create mood.
Subjects and themes
Hopper derived his subject matter from two primary sources: one, the common
features of American life (gas stations, motels, restaurants, theaters, railroads,
and street scenes) and its inhabitants; and two, seascapes and rural landscapes.
Regarding his style, Hopper defined himself as "an amalgam of many races" and not a
member of any school, particularly the "Ashcan School". Once Hopper achieved his
mature style, his art remained consistent and self-contained, in spite of the
numerous art trends that came and went during his long career.
Hopper's seascapes fall into three main groups: pure landscapes of rocks, sea,
and beach grass; lighthouses and farmhouses; and sailboats. Sometimes he combined
these elements. Most of these paintings depict strong light and fair weather; he
showed little interest in snow or rain scenes, or in seasonal color changes. He
painted the majority of the pure seascapes in the period between 1916 and 1919 on
Monhegan Island. Hopper's The Long Leg (1935) is a nearly all-blue sailing picture
with the simplest of elements, while his Ground Swell (1939) is more
complex and depicts a group of youngsters out for a sail, a theme reminiscent of
Winslow Homer's iconic Breezing Up (1876).
Urban architecture and cityscapes also were major subjects for Hopper. He was
fascinated with the American urban scene, "our native architecture with its hideous
beauty, its fantastic roofs, pseudo-gothic, French Mansard, Colonial, mongrel or
what not, with eye-searing color or delicate harmonies of faded paint, shouldering
one another along interminable streets that taper off into swamps or dump
Hopper's influence on the art world and pop culture is undeniable. Though he had
no formal students, many artists have cited him as an influence, including Willem
de Kooning, Jim Dine, and Mark Rothko. An illustration of Hopper's influence is
Rothko's early work Composition I (c. 1931), which is a direct paraphrase of
Hopper's Chop Suey.
Hopper's cinematic compositions and dramatic use of light and dark has made him
a favorite among filmmakers.
Works by Hopper rarely appear on the market. The artist was not prolific,
painting just 366 canvases; during the 1950s, when he was in his 70s, he produced
approximately five paintings a year. Hopper's longtime dealer, Frank Rehn, who gave
the artist his first solo show in 1924, sold Hotel Window (1956) to collector Olga
Knoepke for $7,000 ($50,270 in 2006 currency) in 1957. In 1999, the Forbes
Collection sold it to actor Steve Martin privately for around $10 million. In 2006,
Martin sold it for $26.89 million at Sotheby's New York, an auction record for the
In 2013 the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts put Hopper's East Wind Over
Weehawken (1934) up for sale, hoping to garner the $22–$28 million at which the
painting is valued, in order to establish a fund to acquire "contemporary art" that
would appreciate in value. It is a street scene rendered in dark, earthy tones
depicting the gabled house at 1001 Boulevard East at the corner of 49th Street in
Weehawken, New Jersey, and is considered one of Hopper's best works. It was
acquired directly from the dealer handling the artist's paintings in 1952, fifteen
years before the death of the painter, at a very low price. The painting sold for a
record-breaking $36 million at Christie's in New York, to an anonymous telephone
bidder. That same year, Weehawken resident and comedian Susie Felber commissioned a
modern remake of the painting in order to raise money for the Weehawken PTPO. The
remake, which was created by Brooklyn-based painter Stephen Gardner, depicts the
scene as it appears today, with flowers and satellite dishes, and in lighter tones.
The painting was purchased on ebay for $510 by computer programmer Ligia Builes,
who owns the house depicted in the painting.