Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
By Cisco Lindsey
Edward Hopper seems to be getting a lot of press lately. It appears that everywhere you turn you see one of his most famous paintings, especially  “Nighthawks” and “Early Sunday Morning”. Yet if you came across one of his paintings without knowing his work, you might not be overly impressed. He does not display the dazzling skill of a Sargent, Eakins or Whistler, nor the dramatic flair of Goya or Velázquez nor the stunning imagination of Picasso or Matisse. And yet, when you do become comfortable with Hopper, there is something about his work that is entirely unforgettable. His images haunt you, and each time you see them you are compelled to pause and ponder again.
I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art and while there saw an exhibition of the Clark Brothers collection. The Clark brothers, Stephen and Sterling, heirs to the vast Singer Sewing Machine fortune, had a falling out over their inheritance in 1923 and never spoke to each other again for the rest of their lives. Both collected art, but with widely differing tastes. This show unites both collections, including works by Degas, Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Homer, Corot, Van Gogh and Sargent, seen side-by-side with works by Cézanne, Seurat, Matisse, Picasso, Eakins, and Hopper. And these are not mediocre works by any of these artists; all, it seems, are masterpieces. Entire rooms were dedicated to some of these artists, such as Renoir and Monet. You have to believe I was blown away.
Yet through all of this sensory overload, it seems the painting that I remember most is Hopper’s “Sunlight in a Cafeteria” (shown left). This 40″x60″ painting grabs you and draws you into it. Painted in 1958 and acquired by Stephen Clark in the same year, Hopper said of the image in a letter to his patron: “I’m very pleased that you have acquired my picture, ‘Sunlight in a Cafeteria‘. I think it’s one of my very best pictures.”
From his youth, Hopper had been intrigued by people in urban restaurants, sketching one such scene when he was only fourteen years old. There is little communication between the figures in these ordinary settings, suggesting the lack of emotional interaction in much of modern life. In “Sunlight in a Cafeteria”, he conveys an unsettling tension between the man and woman, who are clearly aware of, but do not acknowledge, each other’s presence. As in almost all his paintings, Hopper creates an edgy stillness that suggests multiple possibilities.
Edward was born in Nyack, New York, on July 22, 1882. After graduating from Nyack High School, Hopper commuted to New York to study art. He first attended the New York School of Illustrating, then in 1900 transferred to William Merritt Chase’s New York School of Art. Robert Henri was among his teachers, and was described by Hopper as “the most influential teacher I had”. Henri’s emphasis on gritty realism and the Ashcan School greatly influenced Hopper.
After New York, Hopper made three trips to Europe (1906, 1909, 1910) to study the emerging art scene there but rather than being drawn into cubism or modernism focused on realism.  His travels included Paris, London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels, and later, Spain. Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch”, seen in Amsterdam,had a powerful impact.
While a student of Henri, Edward had met Josephine “Jo” Nivison (1883-1968), also an artist. They reconnected and married in 1924 when she was 40 and Hopper 42. Jo is depicted in most of his paintings after their marriage because she did not want him painting other female models. Their marriage was a rocky one, comprised of fierce arguments and physical violence. Jo once bit Edwards hand to the bone; he sometimes left her battered and bruised.  Yet their marriage endured for 43 years until Hopper’s death in 1967. Jo died 10 months later.

Hopper did not sell a single painting until he sold a painting he had exhibited in the renowned Armory show in 1913.  From 1913 until 1923 he did not sell another painting, supporting himself as an illustrator. Hopper’s major success dates from the time of his marriage. Hopper’s breakthrough work was “The Mansard Roof”, which he sold for $100 to the Brooklyn Museum in 1923.  From there he went on to become very well known and, surprisingly, was little affected by the Depression.

Hopper’s impact is pervasive; influencing countless other artists, television, music and especially movies. In Hitchcock’s great horror flick “Psycho” you will recognize Hopper’s influence in the house that looms above the Bates Motel.
Hopper’s last painting was “Two Comedians” (shown left), painted in 1963. It is his most moving of Jo, portraying Jo and himself on-stage about to take their last bow before disappearing into the dark expanse behind them.
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