NARRATOR: All you’re looking at here is a block of brick storefronts with apartments above them. The title Early Sunday Morning may explain the emptiness of the street, but it can’t explain the emotional pull of the painting. Take a closer look.
When Edward Hopper made this image in l930, he based it on a real street he knew—Seventh Avenue South in Greenwich Village. But he’s made it look like any main street in any small town anywhere in America. Notice the storefront windows. They have lettering on them, yet Hopper doesn’t let you make out what the letters say. Hopper is an artist of universals, not particulars; he doesn’t want to be that specific.
Now look up at the windows on the second floor. Begin at the left. A yellow shade is drawn; another is half raised; further along, some of the windows are covered with darker window coverings; to the right, a few more have decorative curtains. Each is slightly different, hinting at a life being lived beyond our view. In this small detail, Hopper makes us acutely aware that the people are missing from the picture. As a result, the painting communicates a sense of loneliness.
At the upper right corner of the canvas, a small dark rectangle rises above the building—the suggestion of a skyscraper in the background. It doesn’t catch your eye at first, but once you notice it, the tall building changes the whole picture. A threat overshadows the otherwise quiet street. Sooner or later the juggernaut of commerce and technology will eradicate a small-town way of life.
Audio guide stop for Edward Hopper, Early Sunday Morning, 1930 — Level 2
ARTSPIEGELMAN: Hopper is a regionalist—I’ve always liked the American regionalists like Reginald Marsh and Grant Wood—but the region that Hopper occupies is basically the desolate inner landscape of America.
In Early Sunday Morning, I also was aware of how thoroughly related this is to my medium, comics. You know the word comics is kind of a misnomer and in Portuguese, I’ve discovered, they are called quadrenos, little boxes. And basically Hopper’s a painter of little boxes. He takes his little box, he subdivides it into other boxes.
So I think of Early Sunday Morning as a comic strip before the Sunday sun comes up. The boxes before they’re fully inhabited. Some people sleeping, some people just sort of brushing their teeth, at best. The stores not activated and therefore full of a kind of sad potential.
It looks like the barbershop pole is sort of already tipping its bulb to the little fire hydrant. It’s kind of like the C3PO and R2D2 of 1930: this kind of mechanized, urban, but very alive—possibly as least as alive as the people living behind those windows—might be creatures.
And it kind of makes a mournful song, even though it’s morning.