Edward Hopper's urban pictures
there are no skyscrapers. Nor are
there any massive highway systems, sprawling strip-malls, factories or
slums. African-Americans, Hispanics or Asians are also absent from his
city scenes. Hopper, a native New Yorker, studied commercial art, attended
art school and made several tours of Europe before starting out as a
commercial artist with an advertising firm. He only painted, middle-class
white America, with occasional references to its mechanical civilisation:
a deserted filling station or an abandoned typewriter. Still he is
regarded as the greatest Realist painter of his generation.
paintings record everyday American life, circa 1920—1960, but he
particularly emphasised its dreariness. He refused to sing paeans of
praise to the "land of unlimited possibilities". He thought America
"hideously chaotic" and directed his attention to the everyday
philistines, those who did not start off washing dishes or would not end up millionaires on Long Island.
Portraying the mundane and seemingly joyless activities of their daily
lives, he eschewed overt technical brilliance and painterly precision.
There is always a tragic, paralyzing monotony, a creeping anxiety, whether
he is hinting at endless unpopulated expanses behind the trees along a
deserted road or the grim dinginess of Manhattan tenements viewed in the glare from an elevated railway.
often sketched his figures against the backdrop of New York City, where
3.5 million anonymous lives were already swallowed up by the early
Few paintings are more haunting than
said that the work showed a restaurant at an intersection of Greenwich Avenue. He had simplified the melancholy scene and enlarged
the restaurant. He reflected that he had more or less instinctively tried
to paint the loneliness of a big city. The starkness of
may well have been inspired by Ernest Hemingway.
Hopper found Hemingway's
short story, The Killers, written in the 1920s, to be refreshingly
different from what one usually encountered when leafing through an American magazine. The authenticity of
Hemingway's work contrasted sharply with the pretentious, sugary pap
churned out by his contemporaries.
Hopper thought Hemingway refused to
make concessions to popular taste, never deviating from the truth and
offering no delusive hopes at the end. Like Hemingway,