Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Born in 1882 in Nyack, New York, Hopper began sketching at an early age. His parents recognized his talent and encouraged him by providing art supplies and instructional drawing books. Hopper helped out at his father’s dry goods store, attended public high school, and spent time by himself, often drawing, painting, and reading. Described as both quiet and shy, he had few friends, characteristics that followed him into adulthood.

By the end of high school, Hopper knew he wanted to be a painter. In 1899 he began commuting to New York City for courses in commercial illustration. He then enrolled in the New York School of Art and studied under Robert Henri, an American realist painter who would later become the leader of the Ashcan School of artists. Henri encouraged his students to paint what they saw around them on the streets of the city in a straightforward way. Hopper greatly admired the Ashcan School and described it as a step toward a unique kind of American art. Hopper later remembered Henri as the most influential of all his teachers. But of all the Ashcan School artists, Hopper was drawn most to John Sloan’s work. There are similarities between the artists—both were illustrators, both did a series of etchings, and each artist depicted scenes of everyday life.

Beginning in 1906, Hopper made several trips to Europe, particularly Paris, where he visited museums and immersed himself in the streets and cafés of the French capital. Hopper remained introverted, however, and did not engage with other artists. Instead, he spent his time sketching realistic Paris scenes that foreshadowed his stark paintings of American city streets. Hopper showed little interest in contemporary art movements such as Cubism. With the teachings of Henri still fresh in his mind, he continued to paint in his distinctive American style of realism.

Hopper returned to New York in 1910. He continued to work as a commercial artist, painting only in his spare time. Three years later he moved to an apartment house in Greenwich Village, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. He also began visiting New England every summer, a tradition he would keep up through the 1950s. Barely making ends meet with the income from his commercial work, Hopper began painting (but not yet selling) his striking street scenes, interiors, and architectural compositions. Hopper worked slowly, creating only two or three paintings a year. In 1924, he married fellow artist Jo Nivison. She became his sole female model and traveling companion on trips to Cape Cod, Maine, Mexico and the Southwest. These journeys by car inspired many of Hopper’s most recognizable images, including city and small-town architecture, cars and roads, gas stations, and trains and railroad tracks.

In 1920, Hopper exhibited his first one-person show at the Whitney Club in New York City. Although nothing sold, it was a symbolic success for the artist. Finally, in 1924, at age forty-two, he had his first big success—a sell-out show that soon led to others. By the time the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work in 1933, Hopper had secured his reputation as one of the most important and respected painters of the American experience. He continued to create works in his particular style of American realism until his death in 1967.