Edward Hopper, American realist painter whose paintings speak of a loneliness and isolation somehow uniquely American, was born on July 22, 1882. Hopper’s isolated, almost eerie landscapes and interiors somehow echo the proto-Surreal scenes of De Chirico, yet in a realistic style. House by the Railroad (above) from 1925 served as a model for the Bates Mansion in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Psycho. Many of Hopper’s other paintings feel equally cinematic in their narrative possibility, a suggestive openness that can lead to anything from the simple isolation of the everyday to murderous fantasy.
Josephine Nivison, Hopper’s wife, appears in several of Hopper’s paintings, including Morning Sun (above). In several of these depictions, Hopper strips his wife bare, amplifying the sense of loneliness and vulnerability. Gail Levin’s Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography examines the conflicted relationship between Edward and Josephine, who gave up her own painting career to further Edward’s. Levin dedicates her Becoming Judy Chicago: A Biography of the Artist “In memory of Josephine Nivison Hopper and all the other erased women artists.” Hopper’s landscapes and buildings always seem more alive than his figures, but I’ve always sensed a special deadness to his portrayals of Josephine, somehow erasing her as a person at the same time he paints her.
My favorite Hopper painting remains his Early Sunday Morning from 1930 (above). The play of verticals and horizontals simply amazes. The use of light and shadow across the storefronts seems almost abstract, but the reality of the street never waivers. Hopper stands as one of the most popular modern artists in America. An exhibit of Hopper’s work currently at the MFA in Boston, Massachussets, will later grace the National Gallery in Washington, DC, and the Art Institute of Chicago. For many people who only know Hopper from Nighthawks, either the original, the movie, the too-numerous parodies, or the Tom Waits’ album, works such as Early Sunday Morning will open their eyes to his true greatness.
Near the end of his life, Hopper once told fellow realist painter Andrew Wyeth that he could paint just the way light falls on a wall for the rest of his days. Sun in an Empty Room (above) shows just how much Hopper could create with so seemingly little. His powers of observation challenge us to see our own world anew. His depictions of loneliness, of empty windows, and of empty, expressionless faces, make us examine our own lives, too.