Edward Hopper, The Artist’s True Story Behind His Paintings, Posters and Prints
Edward Hopper’s paintings may be the most misunderstood among well-known artists. Rarely is what people love about them what he had in mind when he painted them.
Hopper, the man, is also one of the most misunderstood.
Mistaken as a romantic curator of city life or as a dreamy lover of landscapes and lighthouses, Hopper was far from easy to know nor was he charismatic.
He was a loner, who both depended on and resented his wife (without whom he might well have stayed unknown), a cold fish who created intense, emotionally touching artwork.
Note: Each of the posters and prints below is for sale. Just click an image for details.
The best collection of his paintings is owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and I’ve been lucky, as a New Yorker, to see them many times, aware of how they reflect his life story.
Hopper is considered a “realist,” but he was more a surrealist. His most unforgettable works emerge from his own inner turmoil, especially his four decades of battle and armistice with his wife, Josephine, better known simply as “Jo.”
It seems odd that a painter of such isolation and disappointment found the popularity that he did.
One of the two most likely reasons is that his paintings have a cinematic quality, including design elements with powerful, enigmatic symbolism.
His pictures, like the best movies, say something visually where words are insufficient and, interestingly, have become inspirations for scenes in films like Days of Heaven and Psycho (1960).
Tom Waits, one of my favorite musicians, used Hopper’s Nighthawks as muse for a studio album full of subtly complex stories about urban life.
Another likely reason is that the Hopper paintings speak directly to a singular self within each of us that finds expression only through art. We feel like we know the Hopper doing the painting.
Edward Hoppers’ realist symbolism has been replicated in so many other works, including variously re-imagined and hopelessly misunderstood versions of Nighthawks, a picture the painter said represented predators, not victims or lost legends, it seems likely he will be admired forever.
Probably misunderstood, too.
Edward Hopper Nighthawks
Nighthawks has been re-imagined and parodied to the point that it’s basic look is familiar to plenty of people who never go to art galleries and couldn’t tell you who Edward Hopper was.
Eddie and Jo Hopper, Mismatched Set
His private life had a lot to do with Edward Hopper’s paintings.
Writers have often mentioned that the Hoppers were a genuinely odd couple. She was bright, lively, and outgoing, and he was grumpy, inward, and resentful.
Yet, they were exceptionally close and mutually antagonistic. All but for the brushstrokes, they collaborated on his paintings.
She was often his model and kept notes on the artworks in progress as well as everything else in their tumultuous life.
Jo managed his career of which he saw very little success before their marriage, but even as she subordinated her career to his, she also resented his arrogance.
The fact that final results of his efforts present so comprehensive a set of human qualities, however surreal, is a testament to their intimacy and collaboration.
Edward Hopper Lighthouses – A muse
Another subject Edward Hopper became famous for are his lighthouses. He painted many, and here again, in their isolation even while prominent in a crowd, we can see the subconscious poking into the everyday.