2011: A YEAR OF EDWARD HOPPER
Edward Hopper House celebrated its 40th anniversary as an art center in 2011 a series of events and exhibits related to Edward Hopper. The highlight of our year was an unprecedented exhibition of Edward Hopper's early work.
Edward Hopper, Prelude: The Nyack Years (May 21 - July 17, 2011) was the first exhibition to concentrate on the works Hopper created during his years in Nyack, New York. Supported by loans from the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Arthayer R. Sanborn Hopper Collection Trust, the show included paintings, drawings, watercolors and memorabilia, some of which have never before been published or exhibited. This exhibition offered a unique opportunity to experience Hopper’s work in the very place that helped shape his vision and where he lived when the work was created. Curated by Elizabeth Thompson Colleary. An illustrated catalogue with an essay by Avis Berman is available for purchase here.
Wall text accompanying exhibition Edward Hopper, Prelude: The Nyack Years
Edward Hopper and Nyack
In 1935, a quarter-century after he had moved from his boyhood home in Nyack and was well on his way to establishing himself as the preeminent American realist painter of the twentieth century, Edward Hopper famously wrote:
“In every artist’s development the germ of the later work is always found in the earlier. The nucleus around which the artist’s intellect builds his work is himself: and this changes little from birth to death. What he was once, he always is, with slight modifications. Changing fashions in methods or subject matter alter him little or not at all.”
In the works exhibited here in the intimate setting of Hopper’s boyhood home, in rooms occupied by his family for more than a century, the “germs” of Hopper’s later art, the masterworks on which his fame rests, can clearly be found. In his choice of subjects and in the development of his style, the art
he produced during the Nyack years represents a crucial prelude to the mature works that would secure his position in the pantheon of American art.
In reappraising a sampling of Hopper’s early seminal works it is clear that during the Nyack years, when he was drawing and painting local scenes and then branching out to commute to art school in New York City and travel to Paris, his artistic foundation was in the process of being laid.
Edward Hopper, Prelude: The Nyack Years provides long overdue recognition of the role that Nyack played in the artist’s early development. The art and memorabilia on display document Hopper’s artistic growth and present new insights into his original sources of inspiration that would sustain him for years to come.
Elizabeth Thompson Colleary, Curator
Little Boy Looking at the Sea, n.d., on view in the exhibition, was drawn on the back of a report card dated October 23, 1891, when Hopper was nine years old. It is a precursor to the many solitary, contemplative figures that Hopper would draw and paint for the rest of his life, such as the small man seated on a curb in Sunday, 1926, an oil painted more than thirty years later.
Comparable lone figures, both male and female, shown standing and seated, either looking down pensively or staring off dreamily into the distance, appear in various guises and settings throughout Hopper’s oeuvre. Examples include the small man peering through a large window in Office in a Small City, 1953 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) and, among the numerous women who gaze out windows or from doorways at rural and urban vistas, the figures that appear in Eleven A.M., 1926 (Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.), Hotel Window 1955 (private collection), Summertime, 1943 (Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington), and Woman in the Sun, 1961 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York). Upon studying these figures, it is clear that in their quiet, contemplative demeanor they can all be seen as later versions or descendants of this little boy looking at the sea.
It is also easy to imagine Hopper as a wistful child standing calmly at the water’s edge growing into the mature artist who would spend endless hours drawing and painting on the shores of the Hudson River in Nyack, on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, and on the sandy ocean beaches of Maine and Massachusetts. Even at this very early age, in the manner of the true artist he was to become, Hopper positions the little boy with his back to the viewer as if to invite us to join him as he contemplates the expansive ocean vista upon which he gazes.
Railroad Sunset, 1929, is a later example of a horizontal landscape format first used by Hopper in his early oil [Old Ice Pond at Nyack],
c. 1897 (The Arthayer R. Sanborn Hopper Collection Trust – 2005),
completed when Hopper was fifteen years old. Like the earlier work on view in the exhibition, Railroad Sunset depicts a specific time of day as Hopper did in the sunset view found in [Old Ice Pond at Nyack], and would often do in his compositions in the years to come, such as Shakespeare at Dusk, 1935 (private collection). The dramatic lighting effects found in [Old Ice Pond at Nyack] are comparable to those found in both later works with foreground details in silhouette against horizontal bands of sharply contrasting color.
Solitary, standing, nude women appear in many drawings that Hopper produced while enrolled in figure drawing classes at the New York School of Art. [Standing Nude], 1902-1904 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), on view in the exhibition, was painted when Hopper was studying there with famed teacher Robert Henri. It displays the dark tonalities that Henri favored and that characterized Hopper’s palette before he traveled to Paris. This early work is a notable precursor to the solitary, columnar, standing nudes that will appear in Hopper’s mature masterworks, such as Morning in A City, 1944 (Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts) and Woman in the Sun, 1965 pictured here.
As he had in his earliest watercolors such as [Hook Mountain, Nyack] c. 1899 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), on view in the exhibition, in this last recorded watercolor painted about sixty-six years later, Hopper once again chose a local view looking out across the water to a distant horizon. In [Hook Mountain, Nyack] painted when Hopper was about seventeen years old, the vista depicted is the view across the Hudson River as seen from Nyack; in Cape Cod Bay the view depicted looking out over the water was seen near the Hoppers’ home in Truro on Cape Cod where they summered for thirty-four years. In both works scale is suggested by the presence of diminutive elements on the horizon.
40th Anniversary Advisory Board