In 1932, the American artist, Edward Hopper (1182-1967) painted Room in New-York, one of his works that illustrates the best oh Hopper’s favorite themes : loneliness.
Edward Hopper is an American artist who was born in 1882 in Nyak, near New-York city. In 1899, he first studied with the Correspondence School of illustration in New-York City, before entering the New-York School of Art in 1900, which was run by a follower of European Impressionism, William Merritt Chas. In 1902, Edward Hopper joined Robert Henry’s painting class, who had a very important impact on him and who was, according to our artist, « the rallying-point and leader in the [American] liberal groups« . He also made three trips to Paris (1906, 1909, 1910) which allowed him to discover modern art and more especially post-impressionism, which had a big influence on his work.
Edward Hopper, Self-portrait, 1925-30, oil-on-canvas, 64.5 x 51.8 cm, New-York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 70.1165
Image : Whitney Museum of American Art
The first work Edward Hopper displayed on was a marine scene, Sailing, in 1913, during the famous exhibition « Memory Show ». The Whitney Studio Club of New-York organized his first solo exhibition in 1920, and in 1933 the MoMA organized his first retrospective. Edward Hopper last painting was Two Comedians, that he made in 1966, one year before he died, in 1967. All in all, Edward Hopper made one hundred paintings between 1924 and 1966, treating several themes : women’s sensuality, modern life scenes, entertainment industry, transit areas, marine views, which makes him nowadays considered as the painter of the ordinary American way of life.
Edward Hopper, Room in New-York, 1926-32, oil-on-canvas, 73.5 x 91.5 cm, Shaldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, H-166.1936
Image : Shaldon Museum of art
But another of Edward Hopper’s favorite themes is people’s loneliness. It is particularly blatant in a painting he made between 1926 and 1932, now conserved at the Shaldon Museum of Art of the University of Nebraska (part of the Lincoln F.M. Hall Collection), Room in New-York. It is an oil-on-canvas of 73,5 x 91,5 centimeters, where we discover a couple’s everyday-life. The artist allows us to enter the place by painting in the foreground the outline of an open window, maybe of a New-York apartment. The dark colours used for this window ledge let us imagine that it’s night, and oblige us to have an inquisitive look into the room in the middle ground. We discover a small drawing room papered with green, a closed door in the middle of the wall in front of us, making this way the scene even more intimate, private. The light coming from above highlights the characters : on the left, sitting in an armchair, a man dressed with a black waistcoat and tie over a white shirt, is absorbed in the reading of a newspaper. On the right hand side, a woman, wearing an elegant reddress, is playing with the keys of a piano standing on the very right hand side of the room. The only thing that seems to link the two persons to each other is a coffee table standing between them, that they both touch. Indeed, there is no communication between them, each of them seeming to be in their own loneliness. Edward Hoppers wants to make us understand that this loneliness, can touch every one of us, by making no details in the faces of the characters, so we can imagine being one of them.
Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, oil-on-canvas, 84 x 152 cm, Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago Bulding, 1942.51
Image : Art institute of Chicago
Loneliness is one of Edward Hopper’s favorite themes as we previously said, as we can see it again illustrated in one of his most famous painting, Nighthawks : indeed, in that scene, even if we are in a meeting place, a coffee shop, with several persons, they don’t communicate more than in the previous painting, not even the couple. We could imagine that the night might be the cause, the characters being too tired to speak. But other paintings of the artist show us the same thing, in different situations : in Hotel by a Railroad, painted in 1952, where we see another couple in a room, an old one this time, who don’t communicate more than in the first one. However in that one the woman doesn’t seem to be bored, but to have adopted this loneliness, making it her own, something not bad. Is it the future of our first couple ?
Edward Hopper, Hotel by a Railroad, 1952, oil-on-canvas, 101,9 x 79,3 cm, private collection
Image : Wikiart
Images of loneliness are recurrent in Edward Hopper’s work, the artist showing us many manners and reasons of being lonely, this state of life being not necessarily a bad one, people might even be happy of it, even when they are with other people.
Edward Hopper, New-York Office, 1962, oil-on-canvas, 101,6 x 139,7 cm, Alabama, Montgomery, Museum of Fine Arts
Image : Wikiart
However, we remember that Edward Hopper is first recognized nowadays as the painter of the ordinary life in America… does it mean that the American way of life is lonely ? That is what could another painting by the artist, New-York Office, showing us loneliness at work, make us imagine.
UPJV – L3 Histoire de l’art
Traduction : Thérèse Kempf et Jean-François Fournier