Edward Hopper’s New York

Merry Christmas museum lovers! Looking for something to do over the holiday break in New York? Locals and art enthusiasts should head to the Whitney Museum of American Art to view the temporary exhibition “Edward Hopper’s New York” which will remain open until March 5, 2023. 

The Whitney is the ideal setting to be introduced to Edward Hopper as they have over 3,100 pieces by the artist in their collection. This exhibition boasts hallmark works on loan from the artist’s oeuvre and others are on display in the museum’s permanent collection. 

A stroll through the Edward Hopper exhibit at the Whitney enables viewers to see the urban landscape of New York City morph and evolve throughout the twentieth century. Hopper (1882-1967), an American artist, called the city home and painted storefronts, city dwellers, and documented his lived experience in a multitude of sketches, watercolors, and paintings. His mesmerizing scenes embody an indistinguishable New York charm, so that a nameless storefront window or an undisclosed rooftop find themselves in harmony with the 200 objects on display. 

Whether you have called New York home for decades or just moved to the big apple, everyone can find something to ponder throughout this exhibition.  For me, I enjoyed the gallery that explored the artist’s relationship with his wife, Josephine Hopper. Archival documents, sketches, paintings, and some exhibit labels tell the story of the pair and their apartment in Washington Square that they called home for over four decades. Jo’s vital role in her husband’s career ranged from serving as a model for her husband and maintaining the meticulous ledgers that documented the sale of his art. The ledgers contain a distilled sketch of a sold work, the buyer, and a brief description penned by Jo. The propped open ledger page I viewed recorded that Hopper sold an oil on canvas, Two Lights, Cape Elizabeth to the Montclair Art Museum. Through my research, I discovered that the painting is still in the museum’s collection and is entitled, Coast Guard Station (1927), executed during the Hopper’s summer vacations in Maine. 

Before my visit, I only knew Hopper as the hand behind the Art Institute of Chicago’s Nighthawks (1942). After strolling through the Whitney, I gained a newfound appreciation for his film noir works. Their deep shadows, ambiguity, and radiating warmth draw in the viewer. I spent a great deal of time with Automat (1927), on loan from the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa. It made its public debut at one of Hopper’s solo New York City shows on Valentine’s Day that year. Jo posed for this scene, but her husband ultimately altered the composition to make the subject appear more youthful. It depicts a young, well dressed customer at an automat in the dead of night. She stares blankly into her coffee, wearing one glove and exposing her hand to the handle of the cup. Perhaps she has just sat down in an attempt to warm up from the cold outside world that her coat suggests. Dark hues consume the painting, making the window to her back a deep void only broken up by the glowing reflection of the ceiling lights. Splashes of warm umbers break up the composition through the bright yellow hat, the delicately posed display of fruit, and the swatch of lipstick on the sitter. In this scene, much like other Hopper noir paintings, time is frozen and beckons the museum goer to stop and spend some a moment with the wok.

I couldn’t help but think of some lyrics by one of my favorite bands, the Gaslight Anthem, as I gazed at this piece.

I heard she lives in Brooklyn with the cool,
Goes crazy over that New York scene on 7th Avenue.
But I used to wait at the diner, a million nights without her,
Praying she won’t cancel again tonight.
And the waiter served my coffee with a consolation sigh.
You remind Anna, if she asks why.

I am grateful that I had the opportunity to “hop” over to the Whitney, and I would encourage you to do the same.

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