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Edward Hopper

American Painter

Movement: Realism

Born: July 22, 1882 - Nyack, NY

Died: May 15, 1967 - New York City

Edward Hopper Timeline

Quotes

"If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint."
Edward Hopper
"The only real influence I've ever had was myself."
Edward Hopper
"There is a sort of elation about sunlight on the upper part of a house."
Edward Hopper

"Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist."

Synopsis

No one captured the isolation of the individual within the modern city like Edward Hopper. His imagery of figures within urban settings go well beyond their role as modern cityscapes, exposing the underbelly of the human experience. So while his oeuvre officially falls within the rubric of Realism, it offers a far more evocative look at life between the World Wars. Indeed, by providing a minimum of action, stripping away almost any sign of life or mobility, and adding dramatic means of representation with striking lighting schemes in claustrophobic spaces, Hopper suggests something of the psychological inner life of his subjects, leading the way towards Abstract Expressionism. He injected significance, and the weight of the individual's existential being in the modern metropolis or in country life, into what otherwise might appear to be straight-forward images of everyday life.

Key Ideas

Hopper's imagery is consistently restrained, presenting part of a story or one suggestive aspect. By leaving many clues but no specific answers, he forces the viewer to complete the narrative. This element of his art would have major repercussions for the development of postmodernism wherein the viewer has a major role in the understanding of the artwork.
Hopper's individuals, usually depicted isolated and disconnected from their environments either literally by glass windows or metaphorically through formal means, are manifestations of the artist's focus on the solitude of modern life. The starkness of detail and unmodulated revelatory light in many works builds a tension, drawing the viewer's attention away from the given subject, and suggesting much about his emotional experience. In this way, the artist's work acts as a bridge between the interest in everyday life exhibited by the contemporary Ashcan School and the exploration of mood by later existential artists.
Many of the houses depicted by Hopper, animated through artistic means, set apart from their environs, lit with a blanching light which dramatically highlights and casts into shadow, viewed from evocative angles, have provided inspiration to the film making industry.

Most Important Art

Edward Hopper Famous Art

House by the Railroad (1925)

House by the Railroad is, like other Hopper works, about a lot more than its simple title indicates. This three-story Victorian house with its distinctive Mansard roof sits alone on an elevated plane cut off from the viewer by the harsh horizontal denotation of a railroad track. Hopper further alienates the viewer by drawing the shades in the house, closing off all opportunity for contact between those who reside inside and the threatening march forward of modern life signified by the railroad tracks. The interplay between the world depicted and that of the viewer no doubt provoked the dialogue explored later in the postmodern art period. One couldn't begin to appreciate the work of the Abstract Expressionists, for example, without it.

The house itself resembles many found in the New England towns Hopper frequented as well as his native Rockland County. And although Jo suggested that it was imagined, "He did it out of his head," it is widely understood to be based on a house on Rte. 9W in Haverstraw, New York. A member of the family who lived there at the time distinctly recalled seeing Hopper sitting across the road working on a painting of the house.

In 1930, this became the first painting to be acquired by the newly established Museum of Modern Art for its permanent collection. Hopper was delighted later on to learn that Alfred Hitchcock used it as inspiration for the house in his 1960 film, "Psycho."
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Edward Hopper Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood

Edward Hopper was born into a comfortable, middle class family in Nyack, New York, in 1882. His parents introduced Edward, and his older sister Marion, to the arts early in life; they attended the theatre, concerts and other cultural events, and visited museums. His father owned a dry goods store where Hopper sometimes worked as a teen. Hopper described him as "an incipient intellectual... less at home with his books of accounts than with Montaigne's essays." Both his parents were supportive of his artistic inclinations.

As a boy, Hopper was quiet and reserved. He was over six feet tall by his early teens, had few friends, and spent much of his time alone with his books and art. His home in Nyack stood on a hill overlooking the Hudson River, just north of New York City. At the time Nyack was a vibrant hub of transit and industry. There was an active train station, three shipbuilding companies, a port for steamboats, and the cross-Hudson ferry. Young Edward spent his days by the river, sketchpad in hand, observing and drawing the rigging and building of boats. This early period is documented in numerous drawings of boats and ships as well as several handmade wooden model boats. As a teen he built a full-sized catboat and briefly considered pursuing a career in naval architecture. The seriousness with which the artist approached his artistic ambitions had already revealed itself by age 10 when he began to sign and date his drawings.

Early Period

Edward Hopper Biography

After graduating high school in 1899, Hopper's parents encouraged him to study commercial illustration instead of fine art. Accordingly, he spent a year at the New York School of Illustration in Manhattan before transferring to the more serious New York School of Art to realize his dream. His teachers there included the American Impressionist William Merritt Chase (who founded the school) and Robert Henri, a leading figure of the Ashcan school, whose proponents advocated depicting the grittier side of urban life. Hopper's classmates at the school included George Bellows, Guy Pene du Bois, and Rockwell Kent.

In 1905, Hopper began working as an illustrator for a New York City advertising agency but never really liked illustrating and longed for the freedom to paint from his imagination. Unfortunately, success was slow in coming and he was forced to earn his living as an illustrator for nearly 20 more years until his painting career took off.

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Edward Hopper Biography Continues

Hopper travelled to Europe three times between 1906 and 1910, enjoying two extended stays in Paris. The influence of the Impressionists led him to the streets to draw and paint en plein air, or, as Hopper described it, "from the fact." Years later he would call his work from this period, a form of "modified impressionism." He was especially attracted to Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas's unusual compositional arrangements in their depictions of modern urban life. During a visit to Amsterdam, Hopper also admired Rembrandt's Nightwatch, which called "the most wonderful thing of his I have seen, it's past belief in its reality - it almost amounts to deception."

Edward Hopper Early Photo

After returning from his final trip abroad in 1910, Hopper moved permanently to New York City and, in 1913, settled at 3 Washington Square North. This would be his home and studio for the rest of his life. That same year he sold his first painting, Sailing (1911), for $250 at the Armory show in New York. Though he never stopped painting, it would be 11 years before he sold another painting. During that time he continued to earn his living illustrating and, in 1915, he took up printmaking, producing some 70 etchings and dry points over the next decade. Like the paintings for which he would later become renowned, Hopper's etchings embody a sense alienation and melancholy. One of his better known etchings, Night Shadows (1921) features the birds'-eye viewpoint, the dramatic use of light and shadow, and the air of mystery which would serve as inspiration for many film noir movies of the 1940s. Hopper continued to receive great acclaim for his etchings over the years and considered them an essential part of his artistic development. As he wrote, "After I took up etching, my painting seemed to crystallize."

Mature Period

In 1923, Hopper visited Gloucester, Massachusetts. There he became reacquainted with Josephine (Jo) Nivison, whom he had met years earlier as an art student of Robert Henri. He worked in watercolor that summer and it was Jo who encouraged him later that year to join her in participating in a show at the Brooklyn Museum. He exhibited six watercolors there, including The Mansard Roof (1923), which the museum purchased for $100.

In 1924, Hopper married Jo. From that time on she became his primary model and most ardent supporter. In that same year he had a solo exhibition of watercolors at the Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery in New York. The show sold out and the Rehn Gallery continued to represent him for the rest of his life. This success enabled Hopper to finally give up illustrating.

Over the next several years, Hopper's painting style matured and his signature iconography emerged--from isolated figures in public or private interiors, to sun-soaked architecture, silent streets, and coastal scenes with lighthouses. In 1930, House by the Railroad (1925) became the first painting accessioned to the permanent collection of the newly founded Museum of Modern Art. The early 1930s were, indeed, a period of great success for Hopper, with sales to major museums and in 1933, a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.

Edward and Jo Hopper 1932 Photograph by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

Despite his commercial success, Hopper and Jo lived a frugal lifestyle, only allowing themselves the indulgence of attending theatre and films. Hopper particularly loved going to movies. His first documented visit to one was in Paris in 1909. As he explained, "When I don't feel in the mood for painting, I go to the movies for a week or more. I go on a regular movie binge."

Early in their marriage the Hoppers spent summers painting in New England, mostly Gloucester and coastal Maine. They also travelled across the country and to Mexico, where they painted watercolors side by side. From 1934, they began spending summers at the house and studio Hopper designed for them in South Truro, Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

Late Period

Edward Hopper Portrait

Hopper continued to be productive during the war years and remained unperturbed by the potential threats following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was precisely during this period that he worked on his most well known painting, Nighthawks (1942). Through the 1950s and early 1960s, Hopper continued to see acclaim and success, despite the arrival of Abstract Expressionism, Pop, and Minimalism to the New York art scene. The universal appeal of his subjects continued to find an avid audience.

Hopper was not a prolific painter. He often found it hard to settle on a subject to paint and then spent a great deal of time working out the details of the composition through numerous studies. By the end of his life he averaged just two oils a year. Hopper died on May 15, 1967 and Jo Hopper died just 10 months later, bequeathing their artistic estate to the Whitney Museum of American Art. Hopper is buried, along with Jo, his sister and his parents, in Nyack's Oak Hill Cemetery.


Legacy

Edward Hopper Portrait

Hopper has inspired countless painters, photographers, filmmakers, set designers, dancers, writers, and musicians and the term "Hopperesque" is now widely used to connote images reminiscent of Hopper's moods and subjects. In the visual arts, Hopper's influence has touched artists in a range of media including Mark Rothko, George Segal, Banksy, Ed Ruscha, and Tony Oursler. The painter Eric Fischl remarked, "You can tell how great an artist is by how long it takes you to get through his territory...I'm still in the territory that he opened up." Richard Diebenkorn recalled the importance of Hopper's influence on his work when he was a student stating, "I embraced Hopper completely ... It was his use of light and shade and the atmosphere ... kind of drenched, saturated with mood, and its kind of austerity ... It was the kind of work that just seemed made for me. I looked at it and it was mine." In the exhibition and catalogue, Edward Hopper & Company: Hopper's Influence on Photography (2009), Jeffrey Fraenkel examines how Edward Hopper inspired a whole school of photographers including Robert Adams, Diane Arbus, Harry Callahan, William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, and Stephen Shore. Fraenkel writes, "More than almost any American artist, Hopper has had a pervasive impact on the way we see the world--so pervasive as to be almost invisible."

Hopper has had no less of an impact on cinema. Generations of filmmakers have drawn inspiration from Hopper's dramatic viewpoints, lighting, and overall moods, among them, Sam Mendes, David Lynch, Robert Siodmak, Orson Welles, Wim Wenders, and Billy Wilder. His painting, House by the Railroad (1925) inspired Alfred Hitchcock's house in Psycho (1960) as well as that in Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978).

Hopper's open-ended narratives have also appealed to writers and musicians. Tom Waits titled an album Nighthawks at the Diner and Madonna named a concert tour after the painting Girlie Show (1941). Joyce Carol Oates refers directly to Hopper in her poem, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks 1942. Many others have created whole collections of stories or poems using Hopper paintings as starting points. Hopper's Nighthawks has been appropriated and used hundreds of times in all forms of media within popular culture. An image of the painting or a facsimile of it can be found in an episode of the Simpsons, as the backdrop for a Peeps marshmallows ad, or featuring Marilyn Monroe and James Dean (in Gottfried Helnwein's Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1984)), morphed into a Starbucks, a space station, and in a variety of cartoons in The New Yorker.

The artist and writer Victor Burgin properly summed up Hopper's pervasive impact when he said, "We need not look for Hopper in order to find him. We may encounter him by chance at random places where his world intersects our own. We might ask whether or not this photograph by the American documentary photographer Larry Sultan was taken with Edward Hopper's paintings consciously in mind. But the question is irrelevant. To know Hopper's work is to be predisposed to see the world in his terms, consciously or not."

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Edward Hopper
Interactive chart with Edward Hopper's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Edgar DegasEdgar Degas
Édouard ManetÉdouard Manet
RembrandtRembrandt

Friends

Robert HenriRobert Henri
George BellowsGeorge Bellows

Movements

ImpressionismImpressionism
RealismRealism
Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper
Years Worked: 1905 - 1967

Artists

Eric FischlEric Fischl
Richard DiebenkornRichard Diebenkorn

Friends

Brian O'DohertyBrian O'Doherty
Lloyd GoodrichLloyd Goodrich

Movements

RealismRealism
Pop ArtPop Art

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Content compiled and written by Carole Perry

Edited and revised by Caroline Igra

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Carole Perry
Edited and revised by Caroline Igra
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Useful Resources on Edward Hopper

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography Recomended resource

By Gail Levin

Edward Hopper

By Carol Troyen

artworks

Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonne

By Gail Levin

Edward Hopper

By Carol Troyen and Judith Barter

More Interesting Books about Edward Hopper
The Museum Syndicate Image Archive

Extensive image archive of Hopper works

The Art Institute of Chicago Hopper archive

Site from 2008 exhibition

Hopper collection at the Whitney Recomended resource

The Whitney Museum's Permanent Collection is recognized for its in-depth commitment to a number of key artists, including Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper House Art Center Recomended resource

Nyack, NY, Hopper's birthplace and family home

More Interesting Websites about Edward Hopper
Hopper: The Supreme American Realist of the 20th Century

By Avis Berman
Smithsonian Magazine
July 2007

The Separateness of Things

By Victor Burgin
Tate Papers
2012

The New York Times: Edward Hopper Recomended resource

News about Edward Hopper, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

How Edward Hopper Storyboarded "Nighthawks"

By Robin Cembalest
ArtNews
July 25, 2013

More Interesting Articles about Edward Hopper
Edward Hopper's Creative Process

Walker Art Center, 2014

Edward Hopper and the Blank Canvas Recomended resource

Documentary, Jean-Pierre Devillers. 2012 (France)

Edward Hopper Recomended resource

Documentary narrated by Steve Martin, National Gallery of Art, 2007

Hopper: American Realist Painter and his Influence on Cinema

Eyes on Cinema, 2015

interviews

An Oral History Interview with Edward Hopper

Interview by John Morse, 1959

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