Edward Hopper’s paintings have an interpretative connotation of places, objects and humans which is intentional and questions the viewer. Each of them contains images of silence, solitude, desire and (erotic) frustration, which are worrying, neurotic and nervous. His technique is worrying. He represents all of America from the turn of the 20th century to the 1960s, the lost America which desired a personal identity and an identity in relation to France.
The first reason for his success: For Hopper, art is primarily about transposition, but not metamorphosis. He was against surrealism and abstraction. He ended up in a figurative style of painting. He transposed his own personal affections to the level of an entire population. His painting is collective and social.
Secondly, he demanded an intimate and highly personal style of painting, and when transposition, intimacy and a people were combined, it was a success. This was his success.
The neutral vision (objective: dominated by the object which imposes itself) and the vision of a voyeur, worrying and worried: calm. This personal vision (driven by feelings and personal psychology) was close to that of many American artists between the turn of the 20th century and the Second World War. He raised the question of domestic painting. He had a profoundly photographic and cinematic vision and was very close to American detective novels, thrillers and American cinema. He both watched it and created it. He would have an enormous influence on Hitchcock’s films. It corresponds to a vision of America as seen by America.
The second reason for his success:
- He did not yet have his cultural knowledge, (the Armory Show in 1913 was a triumph, due to the scandal of the European avant-garde’s art). Edward Hopper took part.
- He experienced an unprecedented “depression” during the 1920s/1930s, he represented the middle class, a “provincial” America left behind by its own modernity in the crisis of the 1930s (this is the reason that he moves us today, as this is our environment).
- Edward Hopper was very well known during his lifetime, from the age of forty onwards he had many exhibitions (represented the United States at the Venice Biennale).
His works were widely distributed, watercolours, advertisements and magazine covers (illustrations). He is very well represented at the Whitney Museum: this museum in the eastern United States has 250 000 works left by his wife Josephine in her will.
Edward Hopper’s painting was about identity, with images seen and reproduced in American films of his day.
Hopper was a member of an American school, the studio of Robert Henri at the New York Art School, the founder of the Ashcan School, a school of miserabilism and sadness. Robert Henri was influenced by the painting of the French artists Courbet and Manet, and by Vélasquez and Rembrandt, the 17th century realist. Hopper was trained within this school and quickly distinguished himself from it with colour. He would have an enormous influence on pop art. Warhol and the British artists admired him because he promoted the meaning of life, signs along the way…
Hopper’s depictions of his stays in Paris give rise to a comparison of his paintings with Félix Vallotton, whose mindset was similar to Hopper’s. The comparison is a good one, because his works are hard, ironic and erotic. Hopper judged them with a certain acrimony and criticism.
The second aspect which greatly interested Hopper was the theatre. Degas had a great influence on him, because he depicted scenes from the theatre from unconventional perspectives. The world would become a dramatic one, in which there would be no heroes or protagonists. Hopper is intimately anonymous.
“Maybe I am not very human. What I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house.”