Around the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States became the scene of a radical change in industry, society and culture. Artists living at that time desired to represent, in their painting, the lives and day-to-day activities of ordinary people in a period of constant change. This artistic movement was known as American realism and found its greatest exponent in Edward Hopper, one of America’s greatest ever artists.
Hopper was born into a middle-class family of Dutch extraction in July 1882 in Nyack, near New York City. He enrolled in the New York School of Art, nowadays Parsons, in 1900. It was a prestigious institution which enabled Hopper to meet some of the most significant artists of the day.
Once he had finished his studies, Hopper began working as an illustrator in a New York advertising agency. He disliked the work but was obliged to continue with it for twenty years in order to make a living.
Fortunately, in all this time he never gave up his real passion, painting. It was his early tours to European capitals which caused his style to be influenced by the artists living there, the Impressionists first among them.
In 1924 Hopper married Josephine Nivison, who thus became the inspiring muse for many of his works. And it was at this time that he began to receive the first serious recognition of his work, an initial step to success beyond America’s shores.
In 1933, New York’s MoMA dedicated a first retrospective study to him, and in 1950 the Whitney Museum a second.
Hopper’s works are renowned for their solitary and melancholic atmosphere: they generally depict somewhat desolate scenes of city life or the interior of public or private buildings with individuals depicted in most of them whose occupants seem absorbed or even vacant. The sense of solitude and restlessness is sufficient to appear almost metaphysical.
And this, together with a knowing use of light and their cinema-like compositions, has given his paintings a uniqueness and made them instantly recognisable. The 1942 painting called Nighthawks is regarded by many as Hopper’s masterpiece and may certainly be considered the perfect synthesis of this extraordinary artist’s techniques.
Success and recognition did not come quickly, but when they did arrive the entire artistic scene was overturned. Despite the critics’ considering Hopper a realist, he never regarded himself as such. And in truth his works are unique to the point that it is difficult to assign them to one school of painting rather than another.
Hopper died in his studio in New York on 5th May 1967. Nowadays he is remembered as one of the greatest artists in American history.
New York, September 2018