Edward Hopper & The Passage of Time

Philip Koch, Edward Hopper Studio, South Truro, oil on board,
15 x 20", 1983

This doesn't exist anymore. You can no longer see Hopper's old studio and Cape Cod Bay in the distance from the vantage point of this hillside. 

Just got some more of my old slides digitally scanned again. As I looked through the newest batch this painting caught my eye. It was painted some 28 years ago during my first stay in the Hopper studio on Cape Cod. It was a little overwhelming for me that first time. The studio and the surroundings were just dripping with meaning and art history. 

Back then Cape Cod looked a lot more like it did in Hopper's day. In the 19th and early 20th century Cape Cod was picked to the bone for firewood. With its sandy soil it hadn't been able to support all that much in the way of forests to begin with. So for Hopper its sand dunes had an open, sweeping appearance. The oil below from the early 1930's by Hopper, Hill, South Truro,  is one of the best examples of that. It's a view of the railroad that ran maybe 200 - 300 yards from Hopper's studio. 

I was dying to paint the studio the way it looked from the distance and climbed up a sandy bank along the dirt road that offered the best view. Nowadays the view is gone- completely blocked by the growth of the trees that have returned to the neighborhood in full force. Seeing my old painting now I'm glad I painted the view that was sill possible in the early '80's.

It wasn't an easy painting to do. I was nearly done when a old woman who lived two houses over from the Hoppers came out and ordered me to leave. I refused and kept painting, hoping she wasn't buddies with the Truro Police. Fortunately they didn't show and I got to finish the oil.

Here's a photo of the studio taken last Fall from the general direction of the approach road, but much closer in toward the studio. 

Hopper's Cape Cod is gradually disappearing, just like the New England farms that offered the 19th century American landscape painters unobstructed vistas of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. The next really great painter to work on Cape Cod is going to be painting a different world than the moody hillsides and spooky forests found on Hopper's canvases. That painter is going to have to invent some new moves to evoke the new place the Cape has become. And just as the landscape has changed, our internal landscape of our generation's psyche is subtly different than in Hopper's day. Exactly how it's difficult to say. That's why we need artists to show us how reality feels differently now.

Every generation brings forth new artists who re-imagine the classic old themes, The best new landscape painters discover the new forms necessary to pour living emotion back into their paintingss of earth, and sky. Hopper didn't just repeat the lessons of his famous teacher Robert Henri. Instead he took Henri's message and re-imgined it to meet the inner needs of a younger generation. 

Hopper is gone and the world he painted is receeding. On some level I believe he'd cheer on those of us trying to come up with the new painting needed to bring his old neighborhood back to life.


  1. Your idea of how reality feels different now is such a fascinating one to me: Particularly the concept of differing inner realities despite the "same" outer reality, as well as how perceived reality changes as we (individually or collectively) change.

    Also- do you have a good source for slide scanning to digital?

    Thanks for this great post.

  2. Hi Julie,

    This idea first occurred to me just looking at the subtle shifts in realist painting say from the 1930's until today. It is difficult to put into words what we're talking about. We need painters to make paintings for us so we can grasp the change. I remember falling in love with a particular Hudson River School panorama in the Indiana University Art Museum when I was a grad student there.It just struck me looking at the painting that its maker seemed to inhabit a slightly different world than my own.

    I have send two batches of slides to a company called ScanCafe and the results seem pretty good- somehow they get all the nasty dust and dirt off the slides better than I can (so you don't have to do a whole lot of touching up in photoshop). I haven't tried anyone else.

  3. Enjoyed this post. Every summer I visit my grandmother on the cape (now 106) and fish for strippers with a cousin. Definitely have a sense of place with those trips. I'm a big fan of Hopper and paint in the Washington DC area.


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