Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper, Self-Portrait, 1906
Born (1882-07-22)July 22, 1882
Upper Nyack, New York, United States
Died May 15, 1967(1967-05-15) (aged 84)
Manhattan, New York, United States
Nationality American
Known for Painting
Notable work Automat (1927)
Chop Suey (1929)
Nighthawks (1942)
Office in a Small City (1953)
Spouse(s) Josephine Nivison (m. 1924)

Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967) was a prominent American realist painter and printmaker. While he was most popularly known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching. Both in his urban and rural scenes, his spare and finely calculated renderings reflected his personal vision of modern American life.[1]


Early life

Childhood home of Edward Hopper in Upper Nyack, New York

Hopper was born in Upper Nyack, New York, a yacht-building center on the Hudson River north of New York City.[2] He was one of two children of a comfortably well-to-do family. His parents, of mostly Dutch ancestry, were Elizabeth Griffiths Smith and Garret Henry Hopper, a dry-goods merchant.[3] Although not so successful as his forebears, Garrett provided well for his two children with considerable help from his wife's inheritance. He retired at age forty-nine.[4] Edward and his only sister Marion attended both private and public schools. They were raised in a strict Baptist home.[5] His father had a mild nature, and the household was dominated by women: Hopper's mother, grandmother, sister, and maid.[6]

His birthplace and boyhood home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, and is now the Edward Hopper House Art Center.[7] It serves as a nonprofit community cultural center featuring exhibitions, workshops, lectures, performances, and special events.[8]

Hopper was a good student in grade school and showed talent in drawing at age five. He readily absorbed his father's intellectual tendencies and love of French and Russian cultures. He also demonstrated his mother's artistic heritage.[9] Hopper's parents encouraged his art and kept him amply supplied with materials, instructional magazines, and illustrated books. By his teens, he was working in pen-and-ink, charcoal, watercolor, and oil—drawing from nature as well as making political cartoons.[10] In 1895, he created his first signed oil painting, Rowboat in Rocky Cove. It shows his early interest in nautical subjects.[11]

In his early self-portraits, Hopper tended to represent himself as skinny, ungraceful, and homely. Though a tall and quiet teenager, his prankish sense of humor found outlet in his art, sometimes in depictions of immigrants or of women dominating men in comic situations. Later in life, he mostly depicted women as the figures in his paintings.[12] In high school, he dreamed of being a naval architect, but after graduation he declared his intention to follow an art career. Hopper's parents insisted that he study commercial art to have a reliable means of income.[13] In developing his self-image and individualistic philosophy of life, Hopper was influenced by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. He later said, "I admire him greatly...I read him over and over again."[14]

Hopper began art studies with a correspondence course in 1899. Soon he transferred to the New York School of Art and Design, the forerunner of Parsons The New School for Design. There he studied for six years, with teachers including William Merritt Chase, who instructed him in oil painting.[13] Early on, Hopper modeled his style after Chase and French masters Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas.[15] Sketching from live models proved a challenge and a shock for the conservatively raised Hopper.

Another of his teachers, artist Robert Henri, taught life class. Henri encouraged his students to use their art to "make a stir in the world". He also advised his students, "It isn't the subject that counts but what you feel about it" and "Forget about art and paint pictures of what interests you in life."[13] In this manner, Henri influenced Hopper, as well as notable future artists George Bellows and Rockwell Kent. He encouraged them to imbue a modern spirit in their work. Some artists in Henri's circle, including John Sloan, became members of "The Eight", also known as the Ashcan School of American Art.[16] Hopper's first existing oil painting to hint at his famous interiors was Solitary Figure in a Theater (c.1904).[17] During his student years, he also painted dozens of nudes, still life studies, landscapes, and portraits, including his self-portraits.[18]

In 1905, Hopper landed a part-time job with an advertising agency, where he created cover designs for trade magazines.[19] Hopper came to detest illustration. He was bound to it by economic necessity until the mid-1920s.[20] He temporarily escaped by making three trips to Europe, each centered in Paris, ostensibly to study the emerging art scene there. In fact, however, he studied alone and seemed mostly unaffected by the new currents in art. Later he said that he "didn't remember having heard of Picasso at all."[16] He was highly impressed by Rembrandt, particularly his Night Watch, which he said was "the most wonderful thing of his I have seen; it's past belief in its reality."[21]

Hopper began painting urban and architectural scenes in a dark palette. Then he shifted to the lighter palette of the Impressionists before returning to the darker palette with which he was comfortable. Hopper later said, "I got over that and later things done in Paris were more the kind of things I do now."[22] Hopper spent much of his time drawing street and café scenes, and going to the theater and opera. Unlike many of his contemporaries who imitated the abstract cubist experiments, Hopper was attracted to realist art. Later, he admitted to no European influences other than French engraver Charles Méryon, whose moody Paris scenes Hopper imitated.[23]

Years of struggle

Summer Interior (1909)

After returning from his last European trip, Hopper rented a studio in New York City, where he struggled to define his own style. Reluctantly, he returned to illustration. Being a freelancer, Hopper was forced to solicit for projects, and had to knock on the doors of magazine and agency offices to find business.[24] His painting languished: "it's hard for me to decide what I want to paint. I go for months without finding it sometimes. It comes slowly."[25] His fellow illustrator, Walter Tittle, described Hopper's depressed emotional state in sharper terms, seeing his friend "suffering...from long periods of unconquerable inertia, sitting for days at a time before his easel in helpless unhappiness, unable to raise a hand to break the spell."[26]

In 1912, Hopper traveled to Gloucester, Massachusetts, to seek some inspiration and did his first outdoor paintings in America.[25] He painted Squam Light, the first of many lighthouse paintings to come.[27]

In 1913, at the famous Armory Show, Hopper earned $250 after he sold his first painting, Sailing (1911), which he painted over an earlier self-portrait.[28] Hopper was thirty-one, and although he hoped his first sale would lead to others in short order, his career would not catch on for many more years to come.[29] He continued to participate in group exhibitions at smaller venues, such as MacDowell Club of New York.[30] Shortly after his father's death that same year, Hopper moved to the 3 Washington Square North apartment in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan where he would live for the rest of his life.

The following year he received a commission to make some movie posters and handle publicity for a movie company.[31] Although he did not like the illustration work, Hopper was a lifelong devotee of the cinema and the theatre, both of which became subjects for his paintings. Each form influenced his compositional methods.[32]

At an impasse over his oil paintings, in 1915 Hopper turned to etching. By 1923 he had produced most of his approximately 70 works in this medium, many of urban scenes of both Paris and New York.[33][34] He also produced some posters for the war effort, as well as continuing with occasional commercial projects.[35] When he could, Hopper did some outdoor watercolors on visits to New England, especially at the art colonies at Ogunquit, Maine, and Monhegan Island.

Night on the El Train (1918) by Edward Hopper

During the early 1920s his etchings began to receive public recognition. They expressed some of his later themes, as in Night on the El Train (couples in silence), Evening Wind (solitary female), and The Catboat (simple nautical scene).[36] Two notable oil paintings of this time were New York Interior (1921) and New York Restaurant (1922).[37] He also painted two of his many "window" paintings to come: Girl at Sewing Machine and Moonlight Interior, both of which show a figure (clothed or nude) near a window of an apartment viewed as gazing out or from the outside looking in.[38]

Poster illustration, Smash the Hun (1919)

Although these were frustrating years, they did not go by completely without recognition. In 1918, Hopper was awarded the U.S. Shipping Board Prize for his war poster, "Smash the Hun," and he was able to exhibit on three occasions: in 1917 with the Society of Independent Artists, in January 1920 (a one-man exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club, which was the precursor to the Whitney Museum), and in 1922 (again with the Whitney Studio Club). In 1923, Hopper received two awards for his etchings: the Logan Prize from the Chicago Society of Etchers, and the W. A. Bryan Prize.[39]

Marriage and breakthrough

By 1923, Hopper's slow climb finally produced a breakthrough. He re-encountered his future wife Josephine Nivison, an artist and former student of Robert Henri, during a summer painting trip in Gloucester, Massachusetts. They were opposites: she was short, open, gregarious, sociable, and liberal, while he was tall, secretive, shy, quiet, introspective, and conservative.[35] They married a year later. She remarked famously, "Sometimes talking to Eddie is just like dropping a stone in a well, except that it doesn't thump when it hits bottom."[40] She subordinated her career to his and shared his reclusive life style. The rest of their lives revolved around their spare walk-up apartment in the city and their summers in South Truro on Cape Cod. She managed his career and his interviews, was his primary model, and was his life companion.[40]

With Nivison's help, six of Hopper's Gloucester watercolors were admitted to an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1923. One of them, The Mansard Roof, was purchased by the museum for its permanent collection for the sum of $100.[41] The critics generally raved about his work; one stated, "What vitality, force and directness! Observe what can be done with the homeliest subject."[41] Hopper sold all his watercolors at a one-man show the following year and finally decided to put illustration behind him.

The artist had demonstrated his ability to transfer his attraction to Parisian architecture to American urban and rural architecture. According to Boston Museum of Fine Arts curator Carol Troyen, "Hopper really liked the way these houses, with their turrets and towers and porches and mansard roofs and ornament cast wonderful shadows. He always said that his favorite thing was painting sunlight on the side of a house."[42]

Road in Maine (1914)

At forty-one, Hopper received further recognition for his work. He continued to harbor bitterness about his career, later turning down appearances and awards.[40] His financial stability now secured, Hopper would live a simple, stable life and continue creating art in his distinctive style for four more decades.

His Two on the Aisle (1927) sold for a personal record $1,500, enabling Hopper to purchase an automobile, which he used to make field trips to remote areas of New England.[43] In 1929, he produced Chop Suey and Railroad Sunset. The following year, art patron Stephen Clark donated House by the Railroad (1925) to the Museum of Modern Art, the first oil painting it acquired for its collection.[44] Hopper painted his last self-portrait in oil around 1930. Although she posed for many of his paintings, Josephine modeled for only one formal oil portrait by her husband, Jo Painting (1936).[45]

Hopper fared better than many other artists during the Great Depression. His stature took a sharp rise in 1931 when major museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, paid thousands of dollars for his works. He sold 30 paintings that year, including 13 watercolors.[43] The following year he participated in the first Whitney Annual, and he continued to exhibit in every annual at the museum for the rest of his life.[43] In 1933, the Museum of Modern Art gave Hopper his first large-scale retrospective.[46]

President Obama views Cobb's Barns, South Truro (top), and Burly Cobb's House, South Truro, both ca. 1930–33, added to the Oval Office in 2014. (Loan from the Whitney Museum.)

In 1930, the Hoppers rented a cottage on Cape Cod in South Truro, Massachusetts. They returned to South Truro every summer for the rest of their lives, building their summer house there in 1934.[47] From there, they would take driving trips into other areas when Edward needed to search for fresh material to paint. In the summers of 1937 and '38, the Hoppers spent extended sojourns on Wagon Wheels Farm in South Royalton, Vermont, where Edward painted a series of watercolors along the White River. These scenes are atypical among Hopper's mature works, as most are "pure" landscapes, devoid of architecture or human figures. First Branch of the White River (1938), now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is the most well-known of Hopper's Vermont landscapes.[48]

Hopper was very productive through the 1930s and early 1940s, producing among many important works New York Movie (1939), Girlie Show (1941), Nighthawks (1942), Hotel Lobby (1943), and Morning in a City (1944). During the late 1940s, however, he suffered a period of relative inactivity. He admitted, "I wish I could paint more. I get sick of reading and going to the movies."[49] In the two decades to come his health faltered, and he had several prostate surgeries and other medical problems.[49] Nonetheless, in the 1950s and early 1960s, he created several more major works, including First Row Orchestra (1951); as well as Morning Sun and Hotel by a Railroad, both in 1952; and Intermission in 1963.[50]


Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square in New York City on May 15, 1967. His wife, who died ten months later, bequeathed their joint collection of more than three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art.[51] Other significant paintings by Hopper are held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Des Moines Art Center, and the Art Institute of Chicago.


Personality and vision

Always reluctant to discuss himself and his art, Hopper simply summed up his art by stating, "The whole answer is there on the canvas."[46] Hopper was stoic and fatalistic—a quiet introverted man with a gentle sense of humor and a frank manner. Hopper was someone drawn to an emblematic, anti-narrative symbolism,[52] who "painted short isolated moments of configuration, saturated with suggestion".[53] His silent spaces and uneasy encounters "touch us where we are most vulnerable",[54] and have "a suggestion of melancholy, that melancholy being enacted".[55] His sense of color revealed him as a pure painter[56] as he "turned the Puritan into the purist, in his quiet canvasses where blemishes and blessings balance".[57] According to critic Lloyd Goodrich, he was "an eminently native painter, who more than any other was getting more of the quality of America into his canvases".[58]

Conservative in politics and social matters (Hopper asserted for example that "artists' lives should be written by people very close to them"),[59] he accepted things as they were and displayed a lack of idealism. Cultured and sophisticated, he was well-read, and many of his paintings show figures reading.[60] He was generally good company and unperturbed by silences, though sometimes taciturn, grumpy, or detached. He was always serious about his art and the art of others, and when asked would return frank opinions.[61]

Hopper's most systematic declaration of his philosophy as an artist was given in a handwritten note, entitled "Statement", submitted in 1953 to the journal, Reality:

Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception.

The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design.

The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it.

Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature's phenomena before it can again become great.[62]

Though Hopper claimed that he didn't consciously embed psychological meaning in his paintings, he was deeply interested in Freud and the power of the subconscious mind. He wrote in 1939, "So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect."[63]


Although he is best known for his oil paintings, Hopper initially achieved recognition for his watercolors and he also produced some commercially successful etchings. Additionally, his notebooks contain high-quality pen and pencil sketches, which were never meant for public viewing.

Hopper paid particular attention to geometrical design and the careful placement of human figures in proper balance with their environment. He was a slow and methodical artist; as he wrote, "It takes a long time for an idea to strike. Then I have to think about it for a long time. I don't start painting until I have it all worked out in my mind. I'm all right when I get to the easel".[64] He often made preparatory sketches to work out his carefully calculated compositions. He and his wife kept a detailed ledger of their works noting such items as "sad face of woman unlit", "electric light from ceiling", and "thighs cooler".[65]

For New York Movie (1939), Hopper demonstrates his thorough preparation with more than 53 sketches of the theater interior and the figure of the pensive usherette.[66]

The effective use of light and shadow to create mood also is central to Hopper's methods. Bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, also play symbolically powerful roles in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963). His use of light and shadow effects have been compared to the cinematography of film noir.[67]

Although a realist painter, Hopper's "soft" realism simplified shapes and details. He used saturated color to heighten contrast and create mood.

Subjects and themes

Hopper derived his subject matter from two primary sources: one, the common features of American life (gas stations, motels, restaurants, theaters, railroads, and street scenes) and its inhabitants; and two, seascapes and rural landscapes. Regarding his style, Hopper defined himself as "an amalgam of many races" and not a member of any school, particularly the "Ashcan School".[68] Once Hopper achieved his mature style, his art remained consistent and self-contained, in spite of the numerous art trends that came and went during his long career.[68]

Hopper's seascapes fall into three main groups: pure landscapes of rocks, sea, and beach grass; lighthouses and farmhouses; and sailboats. Sometimes he combined these elements. Most of these paintings depict strong light and fair weather; he showed little interest in snow or rain scenes, or in seasonal color changes. He painted the majority of the pure seascapes in the period between 1916 and 1919 on Monhegan Island.[69] Hopper's The Long Leg (1935) is a nearly all-blue sailing picture with the simplest of elements, while his Ground Swell (1939) is more complex and depicts a group of youngsters out for a sail, a theme reminiscent of Winslow Homer's iconic Breezing Up (1876).[70]

Urban architecture and cityscapes also were major subjects for Hopper. He was fascinated with the American urban scene, "our native architecture with its hideous beauty, its fantastic roofs, pseudo-gothic, French Mansard, Colonial, mongrel or what not, with eye-searing color or delicate harmonies of faded paint, shouldering one another along interminable streets that taper off into swamps or dump heaps."[71]

In 1925, he produced House by the Railroad. This classic work depicts an isolated Victorian wood mansion, partly obscured by the raised embankment of a railroad. It marked Hopper's artistic maturity. Lloyd Goodrich praised the work as "one of the most poignant and desolating pieces of realism."[72] The work is the first of a series of stark rural and urban scenes that uses sharp lines and large shapes, played upon by unusual lighting to capture the lonely mood of his subjects. Although critics and viewers interpret meaning and mood in these cityscapes, Hopper insisted "I was more interested in the sunlight on the buildings and on the figures than any symbolism."[73] As if to prove the point, his late painting Sun in an Empty Room (1963) is a pure study of sunlight.[74]

Most of Hopper's figure paintings focus on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment—carried out with solo figures, couples, or groups. His primary emotional themes are solitude, loneliness, regret, boredom, and resignation. He expresses the emotions in various environments, including the office, in public places, in apartments, on the road, or on vacation.[75] As if he were creating stills for a movie or tableaux in a play, Hopper positioned his characters as if they were captured just before or just after the climax of a scene.[76]

Hopper's solitary figures are mostly women—dressed, semi-clad, and nude—often reading or looking out a window, or in the workplace. In the early 1920s, Hopper painted his first such images Girl at Sewing Machine (1921), New York Interior (another woman sewing) (1921), and Moonlight Interior (a nude getting into bed) (1923). Automat (1927) and Hotel Room (1931), however, are more representative of his mature style, emphasizing the solitude more overtly.[77]

As Hopper scholar, Gail Levin, wrote of "Hotel Room":

The spare vertical and diagonal bands of color and sharp electric shadows create a concise and intense drama in the night...Combining poignant subject matter with such a powerful formal arrangement, Hopper's composition is pure enough to approach an almost abstract sensibility, yet layered with a poetic meaning for the observer.[78]

Hopper's Room in New York (1932) and Cape Cod Evening (1939) are prime examples of his "couple" paintings. In the first, a young couple appear alienated and uncommunicative—he reading the newspaper while she idles by the piano. The viewer takes on the role of a voyeur, as if looking with a telescope through the window of the apartment to spy on the couple's lack of intimacy. In the latter painting, an older couple with little to say to each other, are playing with their dog, whose own attention is drawn away from his masters.[79] Hopper takes the couple theme to a more ambitious level with Excursion into Philosophy (1959). A middle-aged man sits dejectedly on the edge of a bed. Beside him lies an open book and a partially clad woman. A shaft of light illuminates the floor in front of him. Jo Hopper noted in their log book, "[T]he open book is Plato, reread too late".

Levin interprets the painting:

Plato's philosopher, in search of the real and the true, must turn away from this transitory realm and contemplate the eternal Forms and Ideas. The pensive man in Hopper's painting is positioned between the lure of the earthly domain, figured by the woman, and the call of the higher spiritual domain, represented by the ethereal lightfall. The pain of thinking about this choice and its consequences, after reading Plato all night, is evident. He is paralysed by the fervent inner labour of the melancholic.[80]

In Office at Night (1940), another "couple" painting, Hopper creates a psychological puzzle. The painting shows a man focusing on his work papers, while nearby his attractive female secretary pulls a file. Several studies for the painting show how Hopper experimented with the positioning of the two figures, perhaps to heighten the eroticism and the tension. Hopper presents the viewer with the possibilities that the man is either truly uninterested in the woman's appeal or that he is working hard to ignore her. Another interesting aspect of the painting is how Hopper employs three light sources,[79] from a desk lamp, through a window and indirect light from above. Hopper went on to make several "office" pictures, but none with a sensual undercurrent.

Nighthawks (1942)

The best-known of Hopper's paintings, Nighthawks (1942), is one of his paintings of groups. It shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. The shapes and diagonals are carefully constructed. The viewpoint is cinematic—from the sidewalk, as if the viewer were approaching the restaurant. The diner's harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion.[81] As in many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal. The restaurant depicted was inspired by one in Greenwich Village. Both Hopper and his wife posed for the figures, and Jo Hopper gave the painting its title. The inspiration for the picture may have come from Ernest Hemingway's short story The Killers, which Hopper greatly admired, or from the more philosophical A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.[82] In keeping with the title of his painting, Hopper later said, Nighthawks has more to do with the possibility of predators in the night than with loneliness.[83]

His second most recognizable painting after Nighthawks is another urban painting, Early Sunday Morning (originally called Seventh Avenue Shops), which shows an empty street scene in sharp side light, with a fire hydrant and a barber pole as stand-ins for human figures. Originally Hopper intended to put figures in the upstairs windows but left them empty to heighten the feeling of desolation.[84]

Hopper's rural New England scenes, such as Gas (1940), are no less meaningful. Gas represents "a different, equally clean, well-lighted refuge ... ke[pt] open for those in need as they navigate the night, traveling their own miles to go before they sleep."[85] The work presents a fusion of several Hopper themes: the solitary figure, the melancholy of dusk, and the lonely road.[86]

Hopper approaches Surrealism with Rooms by the Sea (1951), where an open door gives a view of the ocean, without an apparent ladder or steps and no indication of a beach.[87]

After his student years, Hopper's nudes were all women. Unlike past artists who painted the female nude to glorify the female form and to highlight female eroticism, Hopper's nudes are solitary women who are psychologically exposed.[88] One audacious exception is Girlie Show (1941), where a red-headed strip-tease queen strides confidently across a stage to the accompaniment of the musicians in the pit. Girlie Show was inspired by Hopper's visit to a burlesque show a few days earlier. Hopper's wife, as usual, posed for him for the painting, and noted in her diary, "Ed beginning a new canvas—a burlesque queen doing a strip tease—and I posing without a stitch on in front of the stove—nothing but high heels in a lottery dance pose."[89]

Hopper's portraits and self-portraits were relatively few after his student years.[90] Hopper did produce a commissioned "portrait" of a house, The MacArthurs' Home (1939), where he faithfully details the Victorian architecture of the home of actress Helen Hayes. She reported later, "I guess I never met a more misanthropic, grumpy individual in my life." Hopper grumbled throughout the project and never again accepted a commission.[91] Hopper also painted Portrait of Orleans (1950), a "portrait" of the Cape Cod town from its main street.[92]

Though very interested in the American Civil War and Mathew Brady's battlefield photographs, Hopper made only two historical paintings. Both depicted soldiers on their way to Gettysburg.[93] Also rare among his themes are paintings showing action. The best example of an action painting is Bridle Path (1939), but Hopper's struggle with the proper anatomy of the horses may have discouraged him from similar attempts.[94]

Hopper's final oil painting, Two Comedians (1966), painted one year before his death, focuses on his love of the theater. Two French pantomime actors, one male and one female, both dressed in bright white costumes, take their bow in front of a darkened stage. Jo Hopper confirmed that her husband intended the figures to suggest their taking their life's last bows together as husband and wife.[95]

Hopper's paintings have often been seen by others as having a narrative or thematic content that the artist may not have intended. Much meaning can be added to a painting by its title, but the titles of Hopper's paintings were sometimes chosen by others, or were selected by Hopper and his wife in a way that makes it unclear whether they have any real connection with the artist's meaning. For example, Hopper once told an interviewer that he was "fond of Early Sunday Morning... but it wasn't necessarily Sunday. That word was tacked on later by someone else."[96]

The tendency to read thematic or narrative content into Hopper's paintings, that Hopper had not intended, extended even to his wife. When Jo Hopper commented on the figure in Cape Cod Morning "It's a woman looking out to see if the weather's good enough to hang out her wash," Hopper retorted, "Did I say that? You're making it Norman Rockwell. From my point of view she's just looking out the window."[97] Another example of the same phenomenon is recorded in a 1948 article in Time:

Hopper's Summer Evening, a young couple talking in the harsh light of a cottage porch, is inescapably romantic, but Hopper was hurt by one critic's suggestion that it would do for an illustration in "any woman's magazine." Hopper had the painting in the back of his head "for 20 years and I never thought of putting the figures in until I actually started last summer. Why any art director would tear the picture apart. The figures were not what interested me; it was the light streaming down, and the night all around."[98]

Place in American art

In focusing primarily on quiet moments, very rarely showing action, Hopper employed a form of realism adopted by another leading American realist, Andrew Wyeth, but Hopper's technique was completely different from Wyeth's hyper-detailed style.[46] In league with some of his contemporaries, Hopper shared his urban sensibility with John Sloan and George Bellows, but avoided their overt action and violence. Where Joseph Stella and Georgia O'Keeffe glamorized the monumental structures of the city, Hopper reduced them to everyday geometrics and he depicted the pulse of the city as desolate and dangerous rather than "elegant or seductive".[99]

Charles Burchfield, whom Hopper admired and to whom he was compared, said of Hopper, "he achieves such a complete verity that you can read into his interpretations of houses and conceptions of New York life any human implications you wish."[100] He also attributed Hopper's success to his "bold individualism. ... In him we have regained that sturdy American independence which Thomas Eakins gave us, but which for a time was lost."[101] Hopper considered this a high compliment since he considered Eakins the greatest American painter.[102]

Hopper scholar, Deborah Lyons, writes, "Our own moments of revelation are often mirrored, transcendent, in his work. Once seen, Hopper's interpretations exist in our consciousness in tandem with our own experience. We forever see a certain type of house as a Hopper house, invested perhaps with a mystery that Hopper implanted in our own vision." Hopper's paintings highlight the seemingly mundane and typical scenes in our everyday life and give them cause for epiphany. In this way Hopper's art takes the gritty American landscape and lonely gas stations and creates within them a sense of beautiful anticipation.[103]

Although compared to his contemporary Norman Rockwell in terms of subject matter, Hopper did not like the comparison. Hopper considered himself more subtle, less illustrative, and certainly not sentimental. Hopper also rejected comparisons with Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton stating "I think the American Scene painters caricatured America. I always wanted to do myself."[104]


Hopper's influence on the art world and pop culture is undeniable. Though he had no formal students, many artists have cited him as an influence, including Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, and Mark Rothko.[68] An illustration of Hopper's influence is Rothko's early work Composition I (c. 1931), which is a direct paraphrase of Hopper's Chop Suey.[105]

A painting of a large, imposing Gothic house
Hopper's The House by the Railroad inspired the look of the Bates house in Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho. The painting is a fanciful portrait of the Second Empire Victorian home at 18 Conger Avenue in Haverstraw, New York.[106]

Hopper's cinematic compositions and dramatic use of light and dark has made him a favorite among filmmakers. For example, House by the Railroad is reported to have heavily influenced the iconic house in the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho.[107] The same painting has also been cited as being an influence on the home in the Terrence Malick film Days of Heaven. The 1981 film Pennies from Heaven includes a tableau vivant of Nighthawks, with the lead actors in the places of the diners. German director Wim Wenders also cites Hopper influence.[68] His 1997 film The End of Violence also incorporates a tableau vivant of Nighthawks, recreated by actors. Noted surrealist horror film director Dario Argento went so far as to recreate the diner and the patrons in Nighthawks as part of a set for his 1976 film Deep Red (aka Profondo Rosso). Ridley Scott has cited the same painting as a visual inspiration for Blade Runner. To establish the lighting of scenes in the 2002 film Road to Perdition, director Sam Mendes drew from the paintings of Hopper as a source of inspiration, particularly New York Movie.[108]

Homages to Nighthawks featuring cartoon characters or famous pop culture icons such as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe are often found in poster stores and gift shops. The cable television channel Turner Classic Movies sometimes runs animated clips based on Hopper paintings prior to airing its films. Hopper's painting New York Movie was featured in the television show Dead Like Me; the girl standing in the corner resembles Daisy Adair. In a 1998 episode of That '70s Show titled "Drive In," Red and Kitty settle in at a diner and create a reproduction of Nighthawks.

Musical influences include singer/songwriter Tom Waits's 1975 live-in-the-studio album titled Nighthawks at the Diner, after the painting. In 1993, Madonna was inspired sufficiently by Hopper's 1941 painting Girlie Show that she named her world tour after it and incorporated many of the theatrical elements and mood of the painting into the show. In 2004, British guitarist John Squire (formerly of The Stone Roses) released a concept album based on Hopper's work entitled Marshall's House. Each song on the album is inspired by, and shares its title with, a painting by Hopper. Canadian rock group The Weakerthans released their album Reunion Tour in 2007 featuring two songs inspired by and named after Hopper paintings, "Sun in an Empty Room", and "Night Windows", and have also referenced him in songs such as "Hospital Vespers". Hopper's Compartment C, Car 293 inspired Polish composer Paweł Szymański's Compartment 2, Car 7 for violin, viola, cello and vibraphone (2003), as well as Hubert-Félix Thiéfaine's song Compartiment C Voiture 293 Edward Hopper 1938 (2011). Hopper's work has influenced multiple recordings by British band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Early Sunday Morning was the inspiration for the sleeve of Crush (1985). The same band's 2013 single "Night Café" was influenced by Nighthawks and mentions Hopper by name. Seven of his paintings are referenced in the lyrics.[109]

Each of the twelve chapters in New Zealander Chris Bell's 2004 novel Liquidambar (UKA Press/PABD) interprets one of Hopper's paintings to create a surreal detective story.

Hopper's influence reached the Japanese animation world in the dark cyberpunk thriller Texhnolyze. His artwork was used as the basis for the surface world in Texhnolyze as well as for much of the 2008 animated film Bolt.


In 1980, the show Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art and visited London, Düsseldorf, and Amsterdam, as well as San Francisco and Chicago. For the first time ever, this show presented Hopper's oil paintings together with preparatory studies for those works. This was the beginning of Hopper's popularity in Europe and his large worldwide reputation.

In 2004, a large selection of Hopper's paintings toured Europe, visiting Museum Ludwig in Cologne, Germany, and the Tate Modern in London. The Tate exhibition became the second most popular in the gallery's history, with 420,000 visitors in the three months it was open.

In 2007, an exhibition focused on the period of Hopper's greatest achievements—from about 1925 to mid-century—and was presented at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibit comprised fifty oil paintings, thirty watercolors, and twelve prints, including the favorites Nighthawks, Chop Suey, and Lighthouse and Buildings. The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Art Institute of Chicago and sponsored by the global management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.

In 2010, the Fondation de l'Hermitage museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, held an exhibition that covered Hopper's entire career, with works drawn largely from the Whitney Museum in New York City. It included paintings, watercolors, etchings, cartoons, posters, as well as some of the preparatory studies for selected paintings. The exhibition had previously been seen in Milan and Rome. In 2011, The Whitney Museum of American Art held an exhibition called Edward Hopper and His Times.

In 2012, an exhibition opened at the Grand Palais in Paris that sought to shed light on the complexity of his masterpieces, which is an indication of the richness of Hopper's oeuvre. It was divided chronologically into two main parts: the first section covered Hopper's formative years (1900–1924), comparing his work with that of his contemporaries and art he saw in Paris, which may have influenced him. The second section looked at the art of his mature years, from the first paintings emblematic of his personal style, such as House by the Railroad (1924), to his last works.

Art market

Works by Hopper rarely appear on the market. The artist was not prolific, painting just 366 canvases; during the 1950s, when he was in his 70s, he produced approximately five paintings a year. Hopper's longtime dealer, Frank Rehn, who gave the artist his first solo show in 1924, sold Hotel Window (1956) to collector Olga Knoepke for $7,000 (equivalent to $59,077 in 2015) in 1957. In 1999, the Forbes Collection sold it to actor Steve Martin privately for around $10 million.[110] In 2006, Martin sold it for $26.89 million at Sotheby's New York, an auction record for the artist.[111]

In 2013 the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts put Hopper's East Wind Over Weehawken (1934) up for sale, hoping to garner the $22–$28 million at which the painting is valued,[112] in order to establish a fund to acquire "contemporary art" that would appreciate in value.[113] It is a street scene rendered in dark, earthy tones depicting the gabled house at 1001 Boulevard East at the corner of 49th Street in Weehawken, New Jersey, and is considered one of Hopper's best works.[114] It was acquired directly from the dealer handling the artist's paintings in 1952, fifteen years before the death of the painter, at a very low price. The painting sold for a record-breaking $36 million at Christie's in New York,[113] to an anonymous telephone bidder. That same year, Weehawken resident and comedian Susie Felber commissioned a modern remake of the painting in order to raise money for the Weehawken PTPO. The remake, which was created by Brooklyn-based painter Stephen Gardner, depicts the scene as it appears today, with flowers and satellite dishes, and in lighter tones. The painting was purchased on eBay for $510 by computer programmer Ligia Builes, who owns the house depicted in the painting.[114]

In popular culture

Austrian director Gustav Deutsch created the 2013 film Shirley – Visions of Reality based on 13 of Edward Hopper's paintings.[115][116]

Other works based on or inspired by Hopper's paintings include Tom Waits' 1975 album Nighthawks at the Diner, and a 2012 series of photographs by Gail Albert Halaban.[116][117]

In the book (1985, 1998) and traveling exhibition called "Hopper's Places", Gail Levin located and photographed the sites for many of Hopper's paintings. In her 1985 review of a related show organized by Levin, Vivien Raynor wrote in the New York Times: "Miss Levin's deductions are invariably enlightening, as when she infers that Hopper's tendency to elongate structures was a reflection of his own great height." [118]

Winnipeg-based Canadian band The Weakerthans wrote two songs entitled "Sun in an Empty Room" and "Night Windows," from their fourth album Reunion Tour, inspired by Hopper's paintings of the same names.

The New York City Opera announced that it will stage the East Coast premiere of Stewart Wallace's “Hopper’s Wife” – a 1997 chamber opera about an imagined marriage between Edward Hopper and the gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, at Harlem Stage from April 28 through May 1, 2016.[119][120]

Selected works

Title Medium Date Collection Dimensions Image
Girl at Sewing Machine oil on canvas1921Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum48 cm × 46 cm (19 in × 18 in)
Automatoil on canvas1927Des Moines Art Center71.4 cm × 91.4 cm (28 in × 36 in)
Chop Suey oil on canvas 1929 Barney A. Ebsworth Collection 81.3 cm × 96.5 cm (32 in × 38 in)
Early Sunday Morning oil on canvas 1930 Whitney Museum of American Art 89.4 cm × 153 cm (35.2 in × 60.3 in)
Office at Night oil on canvas1940 Walker Art Center (Minneapolis) 56.356 cm × 63.82 cm (22.1875 in × 25.125 in)
Nighthawks oil on canvas 1942 Art Institute of Chicago 84.1 cm × 152.4 cm (33 1⁄8 in × 60 in)
Hotel Lobby oil on canvas1943Indianapolis Museum of Art81.9 cm × 103.5 cm (32 1⁄4 in × 40 3⁄4 in)
Office in a Small City oil on canvas 1953Metropolitan Museum of Art 71 cm × 102 cm (28 in × 40 in)


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  • Wells, Walter. Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper (London/New York: Phaidon, 2007). Winner of the 2009 Umhoefer Prize for Achievement in the Arts and Humanities.
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