Art for the Ages

Edward Hopper

Artist Edward Hopper
Artist Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper (July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967), realist oil painter, watercolorist and printmaker, is best known for depicting scenes of everyday life which capture moments of revealing and poetic depth.

Hopper was born in Nyack, New York, up the Hudson River from New York City. His family was well-to-do, and was able to provide him and his sister with a stable home. He attended both private and public schools, was a good student, and revealed his artistic talent at the early age of five because he loved to draw. His parents supported his love for art and provided him with all the materials he needed to draw and paint. When he graduated from Nyack High School in 1899, Hopper declared his ambition to pursue a career in art. His parents made clear their desire for him to study commercial art in order to be able to earn a living. Hopper entered the New York School of Art and Design, later to become known as Parsons School of Design. He studied there for six years, where he was strongly influenced by William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. He also learned to draw from live models, which strongly contributed to his later paintings of people, most of whom were women.

Hopper spent the next two decades illustrating for magazine covers, a means of supporting himself which he grew to despise. He longed to make a name for himself as a painter and fine artist, but experienced great difficulty in selling his work. He had a few successes, such as a prize for his war poster in 1918, “Smash the Hun.”

In 1923, Hopper met Josephine Nivison, another artist and former student at New York School of Art and Design. Their personalities were completely opposite. She was out-going, sociable and gregarious. Hopper was shy, introspective, somewhat withdrawn, and at times morose. They were married a year later, and were life companions until Hopper’s death in 1967. Josephine became Edward’s confidante, supporter, critic and professional manager. After their marriage, Hopper began to receive recognition for his paintings, and was able to put commercial design behind him as his painting sales became a means of steady support.

Hopper’s philosophy of art is aptly described in a quotation of his in 1953:

Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception.

The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design.

The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it.

Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature’s phenomena before it can again become great.

            Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, p. 461.

Hopper’s art has been characterized as de-glamourizing everyday life, while instead pausing to look beneath the surface of rational thought, and revealing the subconscious currents of emotion that are often concealed.

*Thanks to Wikipedia for much of the information contained above!
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