Reluctant to speak about himself or his art, Edward Hopper summed up his work by stating, “The whole answer is there on the canvas.” Awkward and introverted, Hopper was raised in a female dominated, strict Baptist household. He began his art career via correspondence school and later completed six years of study at the New York Institute of Art and Design. He was shocked when he was expected to sketch live nudes in his life drawing classes. While Impressionism and Cubism were the emerging art movements of his day, when Hopper took three trips to Paris he went to the opera and the theatre. He has been quoted as saying about those trips that he “didn’t remember having heard of Picasso at all.” He was impressed by Rembrandt, in particular “Night Watch”, which he said was “the most wonderful thing of his I have seen; it’s past belief in its reality.” Later Hopper expressed that he felt that there really were no European artists who influenced him.
Because his conservative parents insisted that if he was going to study art it needed to have some commercial applicability so that he would be able to support himself, Hopper became an illustrator. Much like N.C. Wyeth, Hopper came to despise doing illustrations over time. His career did not launch quickly. He had great spells of time where he had difficulty finding inspiration or painting. Another illustrator who knew him, Walter Tittle, described Hopper’s depression as that he was “suffering…from long periods of unconquerable inertia, sitting for days at a time before his easel in helpless unhappiness, unable to raise a hand to break the spell.” Hopper sold his first painting in 1913 when he was 31. He hoped that more sales would soon follow, but it took time for more of his work to be sold.
In 1923, Hopper met his soon to be wife, Josephine Nivison. She was also artist, but after meeting him and marrying him a year later she subordinated her career for his. She modled for him and worked to get his paintings into various shows and galleries. She was able to get his work exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum who bought one of his paintings for their permanent collection. After this his paintings began to sell and he fared much better through out the Depression than many other artists.
Many of Hopper’s paintings depict solitary figures. The paintings’ compositions often hinge on very precise use of perspective and the use of value. Early in his life he painted with a dark palette, then when the lighter palette favored by the Impressionists was in fashion he switched. He returned once more to the darker hues that he was more comfortable with later. Hopper who was introverted and preferred not to discuss his art gave his most definitive declaration of his philosophy as an artist in a handwritten note, titled “Statement”, that was submitted in 1953 to the journal, Reality. It read:
“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the human intellect for a private imaginative conception.
The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form and design.
The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it.
Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature’s phenomena before it can again become great.”
Hopper’s dark, realistic paintings are often very stark, almost lonely. Despite various art trends that came and went, once his work achieved its mature style it remained very consistent. The last of his life, he and his wife lived in their apartment and very much kept to themselves. Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square in New York City on May 15, 1967. His wife died 10 months later. She bequeathed their joint collection of over three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art. While Hopper may not have personally reached out to many people, his work was very influential.