Painting in the Edward Hopper House Art Center

I was up in Nyack, New York at the Edward Hopper House Art Center painting for three days last week in the room where Edward Hopper (American 1882-1967) was born. On and off he lived in this room until late into his twenties when he finally moved out to Manhattan. Hopper used to give art lessons in the parlor downstairs. (Wonder if any of his former students ever wrote about the experience?). 

I did these three vine charcoals and got two small oils on panel pretty far along. I would show you close up photos of the in-progress oils as I really like their overall color, but I've found it's bad luck to post works-in-progress. It seems to tempt the art gods to wake up and start messing with you. They hate presumptuousness in us artists and often take the displaying of works in progress as a personal affront. They've been known to reach down from art heaven and mess with any painter they think overly confident. So it's best to tip toe  your way through a painting in private. At least that's been my experience.  

Carole Perry, the Director of Hopper House was looking at one of the charcoal drawings as I worked on it and commented it was a subject reminiscent of one of Hopper's late oils Sun in An Empty Room.  I think she may have given me a title for at least one of them, maybe all of them.

Last November for Thanksgiving I visited with my two cool nieces who live near Nyack. We all came down to tour the Edward Hopper House Art Center and it was then I first saw this bedroom.

Hopper's bedroom is modest but what immediately struck me were the three windows through which the light streams in. Two faced due east. Gazing out one of them, I could see the Hudson River one block away half obscured by a jumble of slanting rooftops. The late November sun was sharply hitting the roofs and casting those long evocative shadows so typical of that time of year.

I was looking at a view that looked for all the world like most of Hopper's most powerful paintings- seemingly ordinary architecture illuminated by brilliant sunlight. Hopper's famous oil Cape Cod Morning (it's an old friend I visit frequently in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC) comes to mind.

Through those two east facing windows the morning sun would have blasted in and awakened Hopper all through the years he lived in that room. I realized this view was the original source for Hopper's remarkable sense of sunlight. It was an image that embedded itself deep in his mind. He spent his entire life painting pictures that evoked this view. It may well have been one of his happiest memories from his childhood.

Much later in his life, Hopper had a studio for himself built on the shore of Cape Cod in S. Truro, MA. Through a stroke of good fortune I have been given opportunities to stay and work in that studio. Since 1983 I've had 13 residencies there so I know the place well. Hopper designed the studio himself down to the last detail. It too is quite modest, but dominated by windows all around designed to catch the light. When I entered his childhood bedroom last November I realized how much the Cape Cod studio he built in his 40's looked and felt like his early bedroom. I don't think that's an accident. It was his way of summoning up one of the Muses of his early creativity.

Hopper shows us that maybe, through his paintings, you can go home again after all.


  1. Beautifully said, Philip. Wonderful charcoals! I especially love the "mirror-image triangles" shape the light makes in the top one (also seen in the painting you're working on). In monochrome, it reminds me of some of the paper airplanes friends and I would make as kids, but also a sailboat. Looking forward to seeing the finished work--when the time is right, and the gods have given their blessing.

  2. David, thanks. I think painters know about letting things come to completion in their own time. We can push things along of course, but sometimes the worst thing to do is to put them out there in the world before you"re ready to. I think paintings-in-progress are like little house plants that need sunlight, water, and lots of solitude.

  3. Experience - nothing, in any field, is more valuable. And it sure shows here. I hope to get down to Nyack and view first hand. And phew, the floors in that bedroom are gorgeous.



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