Most people will have already seen, in some form or another (usually a postcard or a poster) the above painting of Edward Hopper, called Nighthawks. It is undoubtedly his most famous work and was part of the recent and magnificent exhibition of Hopper's work that I finally saw last week in Paris, at Le Grand Palais. This exhibtion, which was on for 4 months, has broken all attendance records here in Paris for major exhibitions, apart from that devoted to Monet. It received some 780,000 visitors. This is a problem for the attentive visitor as the crowds are so considerable that it can be hard to spend time in front of some pictures. But back to the real subject, which is of course the work of this considerable artist.
The above work contains many of the the recurrent themes and techniques used by Hopper in his paintings : Light and dark (chiaroscuro for those who have studied Italian painting), the power of colour, the dynamics provided by the diagonal in a composition, the play of inside/outside (generally through windows), and the obvious loneliness of his human sujects. Usually these elements are used two by two, or three by three, in his paintings. But in Nighthawks they are all there at once. It should be added that this painting also illustrates the considerable interactions between Hopper's work and films. Fritz Lang and Hitchcock, amongst others, surely influenced him, while he in turn certainly influenced both Wim Wenders and David Lynch. Perhaps all of this explains why this painting can be considered as Hopper's masterpiece.
Room in New York, 1932
Conference at Night, 1949
Few of Hopper's paintings use the power of the diagonal and the contrast of light and shade with such power as this painting, called Conference at Night, which also shows his clear will to symbolise, as well as to dramatise scenes by removing almost all details that do not serve the construction of the painting. This is why it is inexact to describe Hopper as a "realistic" painter. He uses a form of realism to make a symbolic representation of a stutuation or theme.
Cape Cod Morning 1950
Early Sunday Morning, 1930
Hopper is perhaps never stronger in his daring use of composition and his subtle use of colour as when he stays in town. In this picture, the influence of the cinema on Hopper and his subsequent influence on it are both very evident. One can in fact imagine the travelling shot or the next scene.
Pennsylvania Coal Town, 1937
I will be returning to Hopper shortly, as there is much more to be said.