Telling the Truth with Little Lies : Two Paintings by Edward Hopper

On Sunday, May 4 I'm going to be giving a short talk on the legacy of Edward Hopper as part of the Edward Hopper House Art Center's Spring Gala, At Home with Edward and Jo Hopper. On display in the Center's galleries will be some rarely seen works by the painter Jo Hopper, Edward's wife. Along with short presentations on Hopper, music, lite fare, and a silent auction. The event is a fundraiser to support what is probably one of the most remarkable homes in the country open to the public. If you want to feel American art history, this is the place. For more information on this ticketed event click here.

Above is an oil painting Edward Hopper made of his boyhood home in Nyack, NY (now the Edward Hopper House Art Center). He lived there with only a few interruptions until he was nearly 30. The memory of the Nyack home remained deeply rooted in him. Of all his paintings this is the one that most closely resembles the way the place actually looks. It's a view from the stairs that lead to his second floor bedroom. He painted it in 1949. My guess is it is done entirely from memory. But it is a memory that for Hopper was charged with feeling.

Typical of Hopper, he's changed things around a bit from the actual view through his front door. In reality if one stands on these steps  one can gaze across the busy street of Broadway, look down 2nd Avenue, and see one block away the majestic Hudson River. Hopper loved the architecture of his home, and he loved the sweep of the great river. His oil edits out everything else. What results is a tribute to two of the key inspirations that would carry him through his remarkable lifetime of painting.

I'm reminded of the great Hopper oil Rooms by the Sea from 1951. It too distorts the actual appearance of a place to express a greater emotional truth. The scene is in his Cape Cod studio in S. Truro, MA. In real life if one stands in the studio one sees out the doorway a significant stretch of sand and beach grasses before one reaches the expansive ocean. But expressively it better served his purpose to bring the waters right up to the studio door. 

These two paintings have an expressive authenticity because Hopper pared down his experience to focus just on the most telling aspects of his idea. In a sense, he lied. But by eliminating distractions to what mattered most he cleared the way for us to join him and feel the impact these scenes had on his imagination. The French Impressionist Degas once said "You have to have the cunning of a criminal to paint a painting." I'm glad Hopper was listening.

I recommend this short video on Hopper put together by the Hopper House Art Center with some background on Hopper's home and life in Nyack- Edward Hopper and the Making of an Artist.


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