Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was an American artist who was born in New York in 1882, and died in New York, aged 84. Needless to say, this huge American city had great influence on his work, and is the location of one of his most famous paintings, Nighthawks; he also loved nautical subjects. He was artistic from an early age, kept it up at school, and then went on to study at the New York Institute of Art and Design for six years. During this time he painted just about every subject: nudes, landscapes, still lifes, portraits and self-portraits. At the Institute, Hopper was fortunate to have an inspirational teacher, who advised his pupils to “Forget about art and paint pictures of what interests you in life.” After this time, Hopper dabbled in illustration in order to make income, but managed to make time for his non-commercial art, taking three trips to Paris to “study the emerging art scene there”. While Hopper stated he’d “never heard of Picasso”, he was highly fond of Rembrandt, and at one point shifted from his characteristic dark palette to a lighter one of Impressionist style. However, Hopper was attracted to realist art at heart, which was his prevailing style.

The picture of Hopper’s I’ve chosen to analyse is “Office in a Small City”, currently situated in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It was painted in oil on canvas in 1953 and measures 28 x 40 inches. It was begun in Massachusetts and then finished in New York.

The focal point of the painting is a man on the left hand side, sitting alone in his office, gazing through a huge, seemingly glass-less window to a building on the opposite street. The scene appears to take place at either mid morning or late afternoon, but the bright blue of the sky and the clarity of the light makes me think it’s the former. On first glance, the eye shoots to the lone man, then one follows his stare out the window towards the right side of the painting.

A large proportion of the painting is taken up by the white-wash wall of the building which the man is inside, and the matching building in the background. However, Hopper has not simply painted it white; subtle pastel blue and yellow is smudged within, to enhance the glow of the sunrise and the sky. The next largest part of the painting is the expansive cornflower-blue firmament and so most of the painting emits bright and striking cool colours. However, this is balanced by the warm, dark yellow of the right-hand building, and the mix of light and dark yellows of the desks surrounding the man. The man himself is a mixture of cool, white sleeves and skin, and warm, dark yellow hair and dark brown waistcoat.

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Office in a Small City (1963)

Also included in the subject is an assortment of large geometric shapes on the roof of the yellow building, which are supposedly representative of chimneys etc. These are mostly dark orange coloured, but are all highlighted obviously on the side of the sun. The inclusion of these shapes is important as they help make the presence of the sun obvious, without Hopper having to actually include the sun in the scene.

Hopper’s brush marks are neat and well contained to their respective shapes; however I would still describe them to have an element of softness. This suits the mood of the painting, however, which I would gauge to be uncertainty, tinted with hope. Hopper includes more straight lines and 90° angles than wavy lines; the only curves seen are on the man himself and certain aspects of architecture on the right: a swerving and decorative front, and the tops of the windows on the yellow building. On a more philosophical level, this could represent the contrast between materialism and nature. The  office furniture is bland and impersonal, and the man, in his isolation, could be on the brink of deciding his opinions on the material advance of the modern world he lives in, perhaps trying to decipher what really matters to him in his life.

Another similar interpretation of the work is that it was an outlet for Hopper to express his own ambivalence towards modern urban life. Some think that the building the man is encased in is cage-like and restraining him from reaching out, however I feel it is more representative of a comfort zone, and that the sunlight of temptation is beckoning him out, but he faces uncertainty in leaving it. The painting is rather large, and I think this is, albeit vague, evidence supporting my theory that the artist’s intention was to create an atmosphere of potential.

Similar to Andrew Wyeth, isolation, quietness, stilness and emptiness are running themes in Hopper’s work.

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