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Edward Hopper was an incredibly gifted draftsman, though he never intended his studies to be seen as works of art—he used them to try out ideas and refine content for paintings. Featured here are suites of drawn studies in the Whitney’s collection for some of Hopper’s most famous oils. The drawings show two distinct ways of working: in his words, drawing “from the fact” (painting from direct observation), and “improvising” (working from imagination). Taken together, the drawings and paintings reveal how Hopper synthesized precisely observed details or views into atmospheric scenes, transforming the mundane into the poetic.
Based on knowledge of Hopper’s working methods, we can usually discern a general sequence among related sheets, reflected here in the order in which the works appear.
There are nineteen known drawings for Hopper’s most famous painting, all but two of which are in the Whitney’s collection. Hopper developed the composition in December of 1941 and January of 1942, when he finished the painting. We see his first ideas in small sketchbook sheets that were probably done from life while he was sitting in restaurants. Next he developed the diagonal space that defines the composition in a series of studies that grow increasingly more complex. Finally, Hopper posed for himself in a mirror and had his wife pose as well order to make figure studies that develop the poses of the painting’s famous protagonists.