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Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was a keen observer of the everyday, which he transformed through his imagination into works of art that bear his signature tense, enigmatic atmospheres. A reflective and individualistic man, he was deeply attuned to the relationship of the self to the world, and his works increasingly focused on the psychological realities of his subjects. Hopper was frequently inspired by the two locations in which he spent most of his time: downtown New York, where he lived and worked in the same apartment on Washington Square from 1913 until his death in 1967; and Cape Cod, where, beginning in 1934, he maintained a second home and studio.

Hopper and the Northeast

As a young artist in 1899, Hopper began commuting into the city from his hometown of Nyack—less than thirty miles north of Manhattan—to study at the New York School of Illustrating and then, one year later, at the New York School of Art. Afterward, he began pursuing freelance illustration work while continuing to paint. Funded by his commercial assignments, Hopper traveled to Paris for three extended visits between 1906 and 1910. During these trips, Hopper sketched and painted outdoors, creating luminous, loosely rendered cityscapes that helped him develop a sense of how to frame the built environment around him.

Back in New York, Hopper established his career as a chronicler of the modern urban experience. From 1915 to the early 1920s, he forged a rigorous printmaking practice, consolidating many of his impressions of the city and sharpening his compositional skills to experiment with light and shadow in black and white. The window became one of Hopper’s most enduring symbols. In his prints and mature paintings, he exploited its potential to merge the urban facades that had long fascinated him with views into the private lives lived within. Throughout his career, Hopper explored the city with a sketchbook in hand, recording his observations through drawing. He described his on-site sketching process as working “from the fact,” an effort to collect details directly from the world around him. While some of his compositions were based on specific sites, most of his paintings were based on a synthesis of elements from disparate locations, creating an imagined whole.

During this period, Hopper spent his summers visiting coastal towns in Maine and Massachusetts. The works he made there reflect his close observation of the natural environment. After his marriage in 1924 to the artist Josephine (Jo) Verstille Nivison, he continued to decamp in the warmer months. Together, the Hoppers traveled to Cape Cod and took road trips throughout the United States and Mexico. A number of Hopper’s preparatory studies for paintings depict Jo, who played an active role as his sole model, for which she often dressed in character and helped source props. The Hoppers’ collaborative scene staging was integral to Edward’s painting process.

Cafeterias, theaters, offices, and apartment bedrooms

From the mid-1940s to the 1960s, Hopper produced a group of ambitious paintings characterized by radically simplified geometry and uncanny, dreamlike settings. These works were inspired by precise locations but depart from specific references to morph into ambiguous spaces of mystery, anticipation, and anxiety. At a moment when many artists in New York had turned to abstraction, Hopper pushed his compositions further than ever before in his charged images of cafeterias, theaters, offices, and apartment bedrooms.

Hopper and the Whitney

Hopper’s earliest exhibitions were held at the Whitney Studio Club, and his ties to the Whitney Museum of American Art deepened over the course of his career. His masterpiece Early Sunday Morning (1930), acquired just a few months after it was finished, would become part of the Museum’s founding collection. The Seventh Avenue building on which the painting was based was a short walk from Hopper’s studio on Washington Square. Painted more than a decade later, Hopper’s most acclaimed composition, Nighthawks (1942), also references his neighborhood, not far from the Whitney’s present-day site in downtown Manhattan. Hopper was included in the first Whitney Biennial in 1932 and participated in twenty-nine subsequent Biennials and Annuals through 1965, as well as several other group exhibitions. In 1950, the Whitney organized the artist’s second career retrospective exhibition; since the artist’s death in 1967, the Museum has organized many monographic exhibitions, large and small, and his works have been included in dozens of group exhibitions—more than any other artist.


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