Gazing at the Sea
Look above at the sailboat in Edward Hopper's 1935 oil painting The Long Leg. Then see the Adirondack chair in the second photo of the deck attached to Hopper's studio overlooking Cape Cod Bay. Thought it's just coincidence, check out how the Adirondack chair leans to the right at the exactly same angle as the sloop in the first painting. I get a kick out of things like that. This photo and the following ones were all taken in late September and early October of this year at the Hopper studio.
Hopper loved nothing better than to get off by himself to enjoy the considerable pleasures he could find with his eyes. In a way his paintings are like visual conversations he would have in his mind with the subjects, like the sea, that he loved to stare out upon.
It all started when Hopper was a boy. He could see the wide expanse of the Hudson River one block away from his 2nd floor bedroom window in Nyack, New York (now the Edward Hopper House Art Center). His habit of falling into a reverie while looking at the water continued through his entire career. In many ways, Hopper's choice to build a studio high up on a sand dune overlooking the waters off Cape Cod was his way of recapturing the childhood view he loved so much The Long Leg seen above is an imagined view Hopper concocted combining the sand dunes along Cape Cod Bay and his slightly fantasized version of the lighthouse at the tip of Cape Cod in Provincetown, MA.
One other useful comparison between the photo and the painting is to see how careful Hopper was to install clearly defined large shapes onto the water's surface. Unlike the photo, Hopper wanted the water's surface to have noticeable near and far space. It's as if he corralled all the little waves into the clearly bounded lighter and darker areas on the water. It gives the water an extra layer of personality not to be found in the photograph.
He had started painting the ocean long before. Here below is a real beauty from 1914, Dories at Ogunquit, that was painted on the shore right in back of where the lovely Ogunquit Museum of American Art now stands in Maine. You can go there now and see the exact same formation of rocks in the narrow foreground cove.
A few years back the Ogunquit Museum of Art borrowed work from the Whitney Museum in New York and put together a mini-blockbuster exhibit of this oil and and several other Hoppers that had all been painted literally on the grounds where the Ogunquit Museum of Art stands today. You could look at the paintings and go outside and look at the source Hopper worked from. It was fabulous- can't say I'll ever have a view experience quite like that again.
Here's the view standing on the deck pictured above and looking through the door the Hopper's would use to walk down the path that leads to the beach. That's my French easel set up near the door.
Below is another of Hopper's seaside inventions, his oil The Martha McKeene of Wellfleet. Look at the wonderful intricacy of the shadow shapes in the jib and mainsail. Hopper was a master of gradating the tones and colors to create a shimmering sense of light.
Here's the deck again (it was added to the studio by the present owners in 1983- the Hopper's made do with putting their chairs on the sand) looking southwest towards the water. I have no doubt Hopper spent countless hours firmly planted in just such a chair studying the way the light played off the waters.
Below is a photo taken on the path from Hopper's studio (the house at the left) to the shore in the early morning light. Beautiful spot though, isn't it.
Hopper used to walk along these beaches and study the dunes. When you're there it's hard not to. Here's one of my own paintings, The Reach IV, oil on linen, 40 x 60", 2011, that's based on some of those same dunes.
These photographs of the Hopper studio are on a special page of my website that's probably the largest collection of photos of Hopper's Cape Cod studio on the internet. Every couple of days I add a few more to the page. We're up to 36 new images there now and shortly will have far surpassed that number.