Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Artist of the Week: Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper, the best-known American realist of the inter-war period, once said: 'The man's the work. Something doesn't come out of nothing.' This offers a clue to interpreting the work of an artist who was not only intensely private, but who made solitude and introspection important themes in his painting. While most popularly known for his oil paintings, Edward Hopper was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching. In both his urban and rural scenes, his spare and finely calculated renderings reflected his personal vision of modern American life.

Edward Hopper was born in upper Nyack, New York, a yacht-building center north of New York City, the only son of a comfortably well-off, middle-class family. His parents, mostly of Dutch ancestry, were Garret Henry Hopper, a dry-goods merchant, and his wife Elizabeth Griffiths Smith. Hopper was a good student in grade school and showed talent in drawing at age five. Edward Hopper readily absorbed his father’s intellectual tendencies and love of French and Russian culture and demonstrated his mother’s artistic lineage. In 1895, Edward Hopper created his first signed oil painting, Rowboat in Rocky Cove, which demonstrated his early interest in nautical subjects. In his early self-portraits, Hopper tended to represent himself as skinny, ungraceful, and homely. Though a tall and quiet teenager, his prankish sense of humor found outlet in his art, sometimes in depictions of immigrants or of women dominating men in comic situations. By 1899 Edward Hopper had already decided to become an artist, but his parents persuaded him to begin by studying commercial illustration because this seemed to offer a more secure future. Edward Hopper first attended the New York School of Illustrating, then in 1900 transferred to the New York School of Art. It was here that Hopper studied with legendary teachers William Merritt Chase, Robert Henri, and Kenneth Hayes Miller.

Edward Hopper painting "Hopper 6 Soir Bleu" 1914 artworkEdward Hopper would describe Robert Henri as 'the most influential teacher I had', adding 'men didn't get much from Chase; there were mostly women in the class.' Early on, Hopper modeled his style after Chase and French masters Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas. Sketching from live models proved a challenge and a shock for the conservatively raised Hopper. Edward Hopper was a slow developer in art, remaining at the School of Art for seven years, eventually became a part time teacher there. Like the majority of the young American artists of the time, Edward Hopper longed to study in France. With his parents' help he finally left for Paris in October 1906. This was an exciting moment in the history of the Modern movement, but Hopper was to claim that its effect on him was minimal.

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