A Life in Art

Edward Hopper’s Secret Life, Truths Hiding Behind Works We Love

Edward Hopper’s secret life, like his paintings, may be the most misunderstood among popular artists.

Edward Hopper
Public domain, U.S. Library of Congress

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 not easy to know. Nor was he likeable.

He was a loner, but he also depended on and resented his wife in roughly equal measure. Without her he might well have stayed unknown.

Hopper was a cold fish who created intense, emotionally touching artwork.

The Whitney Museum of American Art owns the best group of his paintings. They reflect his life story.

Hopper is considered a realist, but he was more surrealist.

Great works emerged from inner turmoil, battles and truces with his wife. Josephine was better known simply as Jo. They were together for four decades.

Why would an artist of such isolation and disappointment become popular? One reasons is that his paintings are cinematic. Design elements combine with powerful, enigmatic symbolism.

His pictures, like the best movies, say something visually where words are insufficient, and interestingly, they inspired scenes in films like Days of Heaven and Psycho.

Tom Waits used Hopper’s Nighthawks as muse for a studio album of stories about urban life.

Another likely reason, Hopper’s pictures speak directly to a singular self within each of us, finding expression only through art. We feel like we know the Hopper doing the painting.

But Nighthawks, the painter said, represented predators, not victims or lost legends, as many believe.

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

Nighthawks/Art Institute of Chicago

Nighthawks has been re-imagined and parodied to the point that it’s basic look is familiar to people who never go to art galleries and don’t know anything else about Edward Hopper.

Eddie and Jo Hopper, Mismatched Set

Hopper’s private life had a lot to do with his paintings.

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.

Jo modeled and kept notes on works in progress… as well as everything else in their tumultuous life together. She managed his career, and he saw little success before their marriage. But even as she subordinated her career to his, she resented his arrogance.

The results are a comprehensive a set of human qualities, however surreal, testament to their intimacy and collaboration.

Edward Hopper Lighthouses – A muse

Another subject for which Hopper became known are lighthouses. He painted many, and in their isolation, even while prominent in a crowd, we see his subconscious poking into the everyday.

Edward Hopper Artist Paintings

Jo Hopper’s observation about the man with whom she shared a life: “Sometimes talking to Eddie is just like dropping a stone in a well, except that it doesn’t thump when it hits bottom.” Jo Nivison Hopper.

Edward Hopper, A Person Few People Know

Behind the Paintings

Many people love Hopper’s work, but seldom are they aware that he was generally miserable and unpleasant to be around.The reasons were consistent and obvious.

The actress, Helen Hayes, hardly known for biting commentary, said, “I guess I never met a more misanthropic, grumpy individual in my life.”

Still, the paintings are sublime, penetrating, often beautiful and very easy to like. For me, understanding their roots better actually intensifies the enjoyment.

Best Edward Hopper Biography – insightful and informative.

Getting the real Edward Hopper, artist and husband, to step forward.

Gail Levin’s Hopper biography is as intimate as it get.

In His Own Words – Edward Hopper

Hopper claimed to have more interest in the design elements in his painting, the actual architecture of the scene.But he also said this:“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life of the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm.”

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