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Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper, Self-Portrait, 1906
Born (1882-07-22)July 22, 1882
Upper Nyack, New York, United States
Died May 15, 1967(1967-05-15) (aged 84)
Manhattan, New York, United States
Nationality American
Field Painting
Works Automat (1927)
Chop Suey (1929)
Nighthawks (1942)
Office in a Small City (1953)

Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was an American painter. He created paintings called The Nighthawks or Chop Suey.

Biography

Edward Hopper House
Childhood home of Edward Hopper in Upper Nyack, New York

Hopper was born in 1882 in Upper Nyack, New York, a yacht-building center on the Hudson River north of New York City. He was one of two children of a comfortably well-to-do family. His parents, of mostly Dutch ancestry, were Elizabeth Griffiths Smith and Garret Henry Hopper, a dry-goods merchant. Although not so successful as his forebears, Garrett provided well for his two children with considerable help from his wife's inheritance. He retired at age forty-nine. Edward and his only sister Marion attended both private and public schools. They were raised in a strict Baptist home. His father had a mild nature, and the household was dominated by women: Hopper's mother, grandmother, sister, and maid.

His birthplace and boyhood home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. It is now operated as the Edward Hopper House Art Center. It serves as a nonprofit community cultural center featuring exhibitions, workshops, lectures, performances, and special events.

Hopper was a good student in grade school and showed talent in drawing at age five. He readily absorbed his father's intellectual tendencies and love of French and Russian cultures. He also demonstrated his mother's artistic heritage. Hopper's parents encouraged his art and kept him amply supplied with materials, instructional magazines, and illustrated books. By his teens, he was working in pen-and-ink, charcoal, watercolor, and oil—drawing from nature as well as making political cartoons. In 1895, he created his first signed oil painting, Rowboat in Rocky Cove. It shows his early interest in nautical subjects.

In his early self-portraits, Hopper tended to represent himself as skinny, ungraceful, and homely. Though a tall and quiet teenager, his prankish sense of humor found outlet in his art, sometimes in depictions of immigrants or of women dominating men in comic situations. Later in life, he mostly depicted women as the figures in his paintings. In high school, he dreamed of being a naval architect, but after graduation he declared his intention to follow an art career. Hopper's parents insisted that he study commercial art to have a reliable means of income. In developing his self-image and individualistic philosophy of life, Hopper was influenced by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He later said, "I admire him greatly...I read him over and over again."

Hopper began art studies with a correspondence course in 1899. Soon he transferred to the New York School of Art and Design, the forerunner of Parsons The New School for Design. There he studied for six years, with teachers including William Merritt Chase, who instructed him in oil painting. Early on, Hopper modeled his style after Chase and French Impressionist masters Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas.

In 1913, at the famous Armory Show, Hopper earned $250 when he sold his first painting, Sailing (1911), which he had painted over an earlier self-portrait. Hopper was thirty-one, and although he hoped his first sale would lead to others in short order, his career would not catch on for many more years. He continued to participate in group exhibitions at smaller venues, such as the MacDowell Club of New York. Shortly after his father's death that same year, Hopper moved to the 3 Washington Square North apartment in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan, where he would live for the rest of his life.

The following year he received a commission to make some movie posters and handle publicity for a movie company. Although he did not like the illustration work, Hopper was a lifelong devotee of the cinema and the theatre, both of which he treated as subjects for his paintings. Each form influenced his compositional methods.

At an impasse over his oil paintings, in 1915 Hopper turned to etching. By 1923 he had produced most of his approximately 70 works in this medium, many of urban scenes of both Paris and New York. He also produced some posters for the war effort, as well as continuing with occasional commercial projects. When he could, Hopper did some outdoor watercolors on visits to New England, especially at the art colonies at Ogunquit, and Monhegan Island.

Night on the El Train, 1918
Night on the El Train (1918) by Edward Hopper

During the early 1920s his etchings began to receive public recognition. They expressed some of his later themes, as in Night on the El Train (couples in silence), Evening Wind (solitary female), and The Catboat (simple nautical scene). Two notable oil paintings of this time were New York Interior (1921) and New York Restaurant (1922). He also painted two of his many "window" paintings to come: Girl at Sewing Machine and Moonlight Interior, both of which show a figure (clothed or nude) near a window of an apartment viewed as gazing out or from the point of view from the outside looking in.

Smash The Hun - Dry Dock Dial cover
Poster illustration, Smash the Hun (1919)

Although these were frustrating years, Hopper gained some recognition. In 1918, Hopper was awarded the U.S. Shipping Board Prize for his war poster, "Smash the Hun." He participated in three exhibitions: in 1917 with the Society of Independent Artists, in January 1920 (a one-man exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club, which was the precursor to the Whitney Museum), and in 1922 (again with the Whitney Studio Club). In 1923, Hopper received two awards for his etchings: the Logan Prize from the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the W. A. Bryan Prize.

Edward Hopper Road in Maine
Road in Maine (1914)

At forty-one, Hopper received further recognition for his work. He continued to harbor bitterness about his career, later turning down appearances and awards. With his financial stability secured by steady sales, Hopper would live a simple, stable life and continue creating art in his distinctive style for four more decades.

His Two on the Aisle (1927) sold for a personal record $1,500, enabling Hopper to purchase an automobile, which he used to make field trips to remote areas of New England. In 1929, he produced Chop Suey and Railroad Sunset. The following year, art patron Stephen Clark donated House by the Railroad (1925) to the Museum of Modern Art, the first oil painting that it acquired for its collection. Hopper painted his last self-portrait in oil around 1930. Although Josephine posed for many of his paintings, she sat for only one formal oil portrait by her husband, Jo Painting (1936).

Hopper fared better than many other artists during the Great Depression. His stature took a sharp rise in 1931 when major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, paid thousands of dollars for his works. He sold 30 paintings that year, including 13 watercolors. The following year he participated in the first Whitney Annual, and he continued to exhibit in every annual at the museum for the rest of his life. In 1933, the Museum of Modern Art gave Hopper his first large-scale retrospective.

Hopper paintings in the Oval Office
President Obama views Cobb's Barns, South Truro (top), and Burly Cobb's House, South Truro, both ca. 1930–33, added to the Oval Office in 2014. (Loan from the Whitney Museum.)

In 1930, the Hoppers rented a cottage on Cape Cod in South Truro, Massachusetts. They returned to South Truro every summer for the rest of their lives, building a summer house there in 1934. From there, they would take driving trips into other areas when Edward needed to search for fresh material to paint. In the summers of 1937 and '38, the Hoppers spent extended sojourns on Wagon Wheels Farm in South Royalton, Vermont, where Edward painted a series of watercolors along the White River. These scenes are atypical among Hopper's mature works, as most are "pure" landscapes, devoid of architecture or human figures. First Branch of the White River (1938), now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is the most well-known of Hopper's Vermont landscapes.

Hopper was very productive through the 1930s and early 1940s, producing among many important works New York Movie (1939), Nighthawks (1942), Hotel Lobby (1943), and Morning in a City (1944). During the late 1940s, however, he suffered a period of relative inactivity. But, in the 1950s and early 1960s, he created several more major works, including First Row Orchestra (1951); as well as Morning Sun and Hotel by a Railroad, both in 1952; and Intermission in 1963.

Subjects and themes

Edward Hopper - Girl at a Sewing Machine (1921)
Girl at Sewing Machine (1921)

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 heaps."

In 1925, he produced House by the Railroad. This classic work depicts an isolated Victorian wood mansion, partly obscured by the raised embankment of a railroad. It marked Hopper's artistic maturity. Lloyd Goodrich praised the work as "one of the most poignant and desolating pieces of realism." The work is the first of a series of stark rural and urban scenes that uses sharp lines and large shapes, played upon by unusual lighting to capture the lonely mood of his subjects. Although critics and viewers interpret meaning and mood in these cityscapes, Hopper insisted "I was more interested in the sunlight on the buildings and on the figures than any symbolism." As if to prove the point, his late painting Sun in an Empty Room (1963) is a pure study of sunlight.

Most of Hopper's figure paintings focus on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment—carried out with solo figures, couples, or groups. His primary emotional themes are solitude, loneliness, regret, boredom, and resignation. He expresses the emotions in various environments, including the office, in public places, in apartments, on the road, or on vacation. As if he were creating stills for a movie or tableaux in a play, Hopper positioned his characters as if they were captured just before or just after the climax of a scene.

Hopper's solitary figures are mostly women—dressed, semi-clad, and nude—often reading or looking out a window, or in the workplace. In the early 1920s, Hopper painted his first such images Girl at Sewing Machine (1921), New York Interior (another woman sewing) (1921), and Moonlight Interior (a nude getting into bed) (1923). Automat (1927) and Hotel Room (1931), however, are more representative of his mature style, emphasizing the solitude more overtly.

Hopper's Room in New York (1932) and Cape Cod Evening (1939) are prime examples of his "couple" paintings. In the first, a young couple appear alienated and uncommunicative—he reading the newspaper while she idles by the piano. The viewer takes on the role of a voyeur, as if looking with a telescope through the window of the apartment to spy on the couple's lack of intimacy. In the latter painting, an older couple with little to say to each other, are playing with their dog, whose own attention is drawn away from his masters. Hopper takes the couple theme to a more ambitious level with Excursion into Philosophy (1959). A middle-aged man sits dejectedly on the edge of a bed. Beside him lies an open book and a partially clad woman. A shaft of light illuminates the floor in front of him. Jo Hopper noted in their log book, "[T]he open book is Plato, reread too late".

In Office at Night (1940), another "couple" painting, Hopper creates a psychological puzzle. The painting shows a man focusing on his work papers, while nearby his attractive female secretary pulls a file. Several studies for the painting show how Hopper experimented with the positioning of the two figures, perhaps to heighten the eroticism and the tension. Hopper presents the viewer with the possibilities that the man is either truly uninterested in the woman's appeal or that he is working hard to ignore her. Another interesting aspect of the painting is how Hopper employs three light sources, from a desk lamp, through a window and indirect light from above. Hopper went on to make several "office" pictures, but none with a sensual undercurrent.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942
Nighthawks (1942)

The best-known of Hopper's paintings, Nighthawks (1942), is one of his paintings of groups. It shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. The shapes and diagonals are carefully constructed. The viewpoint is cinematic—from the sidewalk, as if the viewer were approaching the restaurant. The diner's harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion. As in many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal. The restaurant depicted was inspired by one in Greenwich Village. Both Hopper and his wife posed for the figures, and Jo Hopper gave the painting its title. The inspiration for the picture may have come from Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers", which Hopper greatly admired, or from the more philosophical "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place". In keeping with the title of his painting, Hopper later said, Nighthawks has more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness.

His second most recognizable painting after Nighthawks is another urban painting, Early Sunday Morning (originally called Seventh Avenue Shops), which shows an empty street scene in sharp side light, with a fire hydrant and a barber pole as stand-ins for human figures. Originally Hopper intended to put figures in the upstairs windows but left them empty to heighten the feeling of desolation.

Hopper's rural New England scenes, such as Gas (1940), are no less meaningful. Gas represents "a different, equally clean, well-lighted refuge ... ke[pt] open for those in need as they navigate the night, traveling their own miles to go before they sleep." The work presents a fusion of several Hopper themes: the solitary figure, the melancholy of dusk, and the lonely road.

Hopper approaches Surrealism with Rooms by the Sea (1951), where an open door gives a view of the ocean, without an apparent ladder or steps and no indication of a beach.

Hopper's portraits and self-portraits were relatively few after his student years. Hopper did produce a commissioned "portrait" of a house, The MacArthurs' Home (1939), where he faithfully details the Victorian architecture of the home of actress Helen Hayes. She reported later, "I guess I never met a more misanthropic, grumpy individual in my life." Hopper grumbled throughout the project and never again accepted a commission. Hopper also painted Portrait of Orleans (1950), a "portrait" of the Cape Cod town from its main street.

Hopper's final oil painting, Two Comedians (1966), painted one year before his death, focuses on his love of the theater. Two French pantomime actors, one male and one female, both dressed in bright white costumes, take their bow in front of a darkened stage. Jo Hopper confirmed that her husband intended the figures to suggest their taking their life's last bows together as husband and wife.

Hopper's paintings have often been seen by others as having a narrative or thematic content that the artist may not have intended. Much meaning can be added to a painting by its title, but the titles of Hopper's paintings were sometimes chosen by others, or were selected by Hopper and his wife in a way that makes it unclear whether they have any real connection with the artist's meaning. For example, Hopper once told an interviewer that he was "fond of Early Sunday Morning... but it wasn't necessarily Sunday. That word was tacked on later by someone else."

The tendency to read thematic or narrative content into Hopper's paintings, that Hopper had not intended, extended even to his wife. When Jo Hopper commented on the figure in Cape Cod Morning "It's a woman looking out to see if the weather's good enough to hang out her wash," Hopper retorted, "Did I say that? You're making it Norman Rockwell. From my point of view she's just looking out the window." Another example of the same phenomenon is recorded in a 1948 article in Time:

Death

Grabstein Edward Hopper
Gravestone Edward und Josephine H., Oak Hill Cemetery Nyack

Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square in New York City on May 15, 1967. He was buried two days later in the family's grave at Oak Hill Cemetery in Nyack, New York, his place of birth. His wife died ten months later.

His wife bequeathed their joint collection of more than three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Other significant paintings by Hopper are held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.


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