Written and Translated by – Leandro Bonan

Italian Version: http://revolart.it/edward-hopper-storia-di-un-pittore-americano/

 

In 1928, the sculptress Getrude V. Whitney decided to donate her entire art collection, made by over 500 artworks, to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, but the director of the museum refused the legacy, advancing problems of space. Such a rejection didn’t dishearten the artist, though, who decided to found her own museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, which opened only three years later. Nowadays, the museum owns a collection of around 21,000 artworks by 3000 different artists and it has a library of more than 30000 books. In that American art temple ‘s archives is stored the vast majority of Edward Hopper’s artistic production, the main exponent of the Realism of Overseas and almost certainly also the most famous and significant American painter. No other place, not even a museum entirely dedicated to him, could have been a better location to host his works, because Edward Hopper is essentially and unequivocally an American artist. His entire artistic production is in fact imbued with the culture of the United States, so much that all his paintings, sketches, drawings are to be found in American museums or collections. All but a couple, which are exhibited at the Madrid Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. American is also the lightness with which he paints: he, unlike his European colleagues, is free to follow his personal taste, both in terms of the choice of the subjects and in the technique, and he profits from the youth of his homeland, which had turned 100 just six years before his birth. He doesn’t know, therefore, the sense of inadequacy which his overseas peers feel, having to vie with centuries of divine fine art, and hence he cannot share the discomfort expressed by his contemporary Matisse, who wrote in his diary: “There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted” And the more roses have been painted in the past, the more difficult it is trying not to duplicate neither themselves nor the others. Even his life, as far as the setting is concerned, is almost entirely American: it started in Nyack, a village distant only few kilometers from New York, on the bank of the Hudson river, in 1882. With 18, supported by his parents, he enrolled in the very well-known New York School of Art, where he had as a teacher a realist painter, very famous at that time, Robert Henri, who taught him choose the subjects for his paintings among the everyday life situations. He went out of the States in four occasions only, the first one in 1906 and the last one in 1910, and each time he went to Paris, for what he fell head over heels. There he got acquainted with the art of the Impressionists and he learnt to appreciate them, especially Dégas, so much that, after twenty years, he painted Automat (1927), which depicted a young lonely woman who drinks a coffee in the dead of night. The pose of her, the emptiness of her look, her loneliness, immediately recall Absinthe, of the famous French painter.

 

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Both women give the impression of being speculating about their life, and loneliness is a main theme of both paintings. Degas chose to underline the solitude of the women putting her beside a man with whom she has clearly nothing to do, a fortuitous and rather slovenly customer, whose glance is carelessly pointing in the opposite direction of the women, deeming her not worthy even of the least attention. Hopper, on the contrary, decided to emphasize the loneliness or the girl using the light: an unnatural light, intense but lacking warmth, which makes the ambient aseptic and depressing, underlining at the same time the contrast with the external darkness, though equally cold and inhospitable. The only warm note, almost sarcastic in its intensity, is the basket of fruit which is behind the girl, relegated alone in the background.

 

He was deeply impressed by France, by its colours and its lights, by the peace and the harmony that inspires, so much that once he came back he struggled to accept “his” New York, chaotic and relentlessly subjected to the frenetic rhythms of finance and manufacturing. Such a suffered acceptance of the modernity is definitely visible in his words: the reality that he paints with great scenic attention, capturing immobile photographs, suspended both in the space and in the time, is neither the one of the great technological renewal nor, some years later, that of the Great Depression. Hopper never painted neither cars nor skyscrapers, although he was active in the period of maximum urban development of the Big Apple: in the Thirties, in fact, the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Tower and the Rockefeller Center were built, revolutionising the skyline. This does not imply, though, that Hopper refused modernity, but that he could appreciate it only in the little things, in the impact it has on the routine. In his paintings, for example, we can admire gas pumps (Gas, 1940) or neon bulbs (in the world-known Nighthawks, 1942) just a few years after their appearance on the market.

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While, hence, the city transforms and develops itself, Edward works, after traveling Europe, as illustrator and graphic advertiser by C. C. Philips & Co., keeping on painting in his spare time. A still life, after all, that a pacific character as Hopper does not dislike that much. In 1922, though, everything changed. In two years, from 1992 to 1924, in fact, Edward saw his life changing drastically: after a series of minor exhibitions in his former professor Henri’s atelier, he receives for the first time the press’s attention, which publishes a long articles praising him, and he meets, at the end of 1922, Josephine V. Nivison, who marry two years later. During the engagement he finally takes part to the first important exhibition, at the Brooklyn Museum; he starts to have a reputation and the commissions get so constant and significant that allow him, already in 1924, to definitely resign and to live for and thanks to his art. From that moment onwards, he experiences a climax of successes, among whose the most important are a personal exhibition at MoMA in 1933, an exposition at the Venetian Biennale in 1952 and a last, glorious, retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1964. His influence in popular culture becomes so intense that the genial director Alfred Hitchcock based Norman Bates’s house in Psycho (1960) on the painting The House by the Railroad (1925). For those who watched the movie, the representation of the house is extremely accurate, according to the perfectionist style that distinguished the eclectic director. The fascination that the world of the cinematography feels for Hopper is though definitely symmetric: the painter itself tries to represent, more than reality, a dramatized and essential representation of what he observes, a very verisimilar mise en scene.

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This attitude is perfectly observable in the last painting he realized before dying, Two Comedians (1966), in which the elderly Hopper paints himself and his wife, wearing Pierrot’s custumes, while they bow to thank an invisible public. The life’s comedy is almost over and Hopper gracefully cheers, together with his life’s companion, after having accomplished to his task, after having played the role he was attributed, the one of the calm artist, never over the top, never extravagant, who, with the placid determination of the American man, left an enduring print on the History of Art. He will pass away the following year, in 1967, in his New York, with 84.

 

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