Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Edward Hopper's Watercolor Adam's House


Every year I have a wall calendar of Edward Hopper (Am. 1882-1967) paintings. Guess which Hopper I was enjoying all of October. Now it's November and I miss it. 

This is the very first watercolor by Hopper I saw in the flesh. It was 1972, the final year of my MFA Painting Program at Indiana University. Wichita State University had invited me to fly to Kansas for a teaching job interview. During a break in the interview process some of the faculty took me over to visit the Wichita Art Museum. My favorite piece was Hopper's Adam's House, a view of Gloucester, MA painted in 1928. It's remarkably crisp and fresh.

A big story Hopper wanted to tell was the "stand off" between the white house and the skinny and bent  pole holding up the power lines. He especially wanted us to feel the weight of the dark top of the pole. In a mostly warm painting he gradates the pole from lighter warm browns at the bottom to a cool black at its top. If that stronger dark had continued the whole length of the pole it would threaten to take over the painting.

Not wanting the electric wires to steal the pole's thunder, Hopper paints them way lighter than they would have appeared.

Another example of his skill with understatement is the how he lightens up all the shadows around the windows and doorway of the white house. Compare the startlingly black shingled roof to the sun blasted front of the white house. I think the darkness of the roof is meant as a visual surprise and a worthy partner for our humble but poised electrical pole.

BTW, I did get offered the job teaching at Wichita. As it turned out I took another position out at Central Washington University in the Northwest, but that's another story. Also any Hopper fans who might get to Wichita should know the Wichita Museum has four Hoppers, including the famous oil Conference at Night. Worth a trip,






4 comments:

  1. Great post. That telephone pole really does pull you in with its rightward lean.

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  2. Philip, I have the same calendar, and I was also reluctant to turn this page! And here's a topic for Hopper micro-analysis: Why did he include the electrical wires into this painting, while showing wire-less poles in so many the others? It seems that most of the watercolors after 1930 or so are sans wires, but even before "Adam's House" (1928) Hopper was leaving the wires out of some of his watercolors, just painting in the poles. Please ponder this from your painter's perspective and let us know what you think!

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  3. There is much detail here, particularly in the lower right hand corner, that he did not typically include in most of his works. Perhaps he placed the wires as he finished after sensing that the bare pole would appear too stringent and totemic.

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  4. Dan, perhaps you're right. Whatever Hopper's thinking, I really love this painting.

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