Friday, June 22, 2012

Edward Hopper: Acquisitions and Exhibitions

One of the Last Important Hopper Works in Private Hands Will Immediately Become Iconic Masterpiece in Museum's Collection

Edward Hopper, Intermission, 1963; Collection SFMOMA, purchase in memory of Elaine McKeon, chair, SFMOMA Board of Trustees (1995–2004), with funds provided in part by the Fisher and Schwab Families; © Heirs of Josephine N. Hopper, licensed by the Whitney Museum of American Art; photo: courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)has announced the acquisition of Edward Hopper's Intermission (1963), among the artist's largest and most ambitious paintings, and one of the last significant Hopper works remaining in private hands.

In the last years of his life, Hopper, who was never prolific, made only two complete works each year—one in the spring and one in the fall. Intermission was painted in March and April of 1963, and was one of the last four paintings that Hopper finished before his death in 1967. Measuring 40 by 60 inches, it is among his largest paintings and evokes the artist's signature dramatic cropping of cinematic camera angles, and the high-keyed lighting of stagecraft, both of which add an emotive and artificial sensation to his tightly controlled, understated narrative.

"Intermission is an iconic work, exemplary of Hopper's late period and style, and establishes him as a contemporary master beyond his historical achievements of the early twentieth century," says Gary Garrels, SFMOMA Elise S. Haas Senior Curator of Painting and Sculpture. "The painting is also significant in relation to SFMOMA's deep holdings of work by artists of the Bay Area Figurative tradition, such as Robert Bechtle, Richard Diebenkorn, and Wayne Thiebaud, as well as photographers strongly represented in the collection like William Eggleston, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Stephen Shore, who share affinities with Hopper."

In conjunction with this acquisition, SFMOMA has deacessioned another work by Hopper in the museum's collection—Bridle Path (1939). At Sotheby's on May 17, 2012 four bidders in the room competed for the canvas – the first oil painting by Hopper to come to auction since Sotheby’s record sale of Hotel Window in 2006 – and drove the final price to a remarkable $10,386,500 (est. $5/7 million). This marks the third-highest price for the artist at auction, and the seventh-highest price achieved by any work of art in a public auction of American Art. A smaller painting that portrays three figures on horseback riding toward the West 72nd Street entrance to Central Park in New York City, Bridle Path is of interest to Hopper scholars as an atypical work by the artist.

Set in New York City's Central Park, Bridle Path masterfully exemplifies Edward Hopper's fascination with the mysterious. He imbues the image with his characteristic sense of anxiety and tension, as the three riders move toward an ominous black void under the Riftstone Arch, also magnified by the agitated stance of the white horse. The equestrian subject and focus on movement are highly unusual in Hopper's oeuvre, but the composition's sense of mystery is pure Hopper. The painting is further distinguished by its depiction of an identifiable location, with the city's infamous Dakota building in the background - a departure from Hopper's many ambiguous and universal settings.

Known as one of the most singular twentieth-century American painters, Hopper has influenced generations of artists, writers, filmmakers, and photographers with his moody, quiet tableaux. His best-known paintings investigate everyday scenes in which isolated figures are contained within interiors of common locations—such as theaters, hotels, bedrooms, offices, train stations, or restaurants—or outdoors on city or country streets.

Hopper came up with the idea for Intermission while he was watching a movie, and his wife, Josephine Hopper, arranged for him to work on the painting in an empty theater. However, Hopper decided to complete Intermission at his home and studio in New York City. A surviving preparatory sketch for the painting reveals that he considered including another figure in the third row. In an interview he revealed, "There's half another person in the picture." The final composition depicts a solitary woman in a theater, sitting alone in the first row of a side aisle. Seemingly waiting for others to return from intermission, she appears lost in thought, staring off into the distance as she sits contently in a comfortable-looking dark green theater seat with her ankles crossed.

Sharply cropped horizontally, the composition includes only the front edge of the stage and a small portion of a yellow curtain. The main focus is on the self-contained figure sitting alone among empty seats. While it is known that Hopper's wife insisted on modeling for all of her husband's female figures, she suggests in notes left in her record book that Intermission is more of a psychological portrait rather than a straightforward representation of herself. Hopper explained during an interview that he thought of the sensibly dressed woman in the painting as "Nora," and that she was an "egghead." In her notes, Josephine Hopper writes: "Nothing of the comfortably bleak [is] lost on the highly conscious 'Nora,' with strong, long hands." She further describes her as "not the kind to slip [her] feet out of the long, reasonably high heeled pumps" and "an efficient secretary or priced chatelaine of [a] big house."

Perfectly exemplifying one of Hopper's signature subjects, Intermission also reveals the artist's use of lighting and tonalities to convey a cool yet intimate portrait of isolation. Underneath a shadow that follows the molding along the wall, the figure sits with her face partially highlighted by the falling light. Hopper was known to thin his paints in his later works—here the green armchairs of the auditorium fade from bright green to a bluish grey, giving them a sketchlike, landscape quality. Overall, the painting is luminous with glowing color and a highly abstract background, which is a field of loose brushwork that gives the painting an extremely contemporary style and feel.

Almost immediately after Hopper completed the canvas, it was recognized as one of his best works and was included in his second retrospective at the Whitney Museum of Art the following year in 1964 (the Whitney's first retrospective of Hopper's work was in 1950). Intermission was also included in the artist's third Whitney retrospective, which traveled to SFMOMA in 1982 in its original Van Ness location. Since the mid-1990s, Intermission has been in a private West Coast collection and most recently was included in a Hopper retrospective organized by the Tate Modern in 2004.

"Though a number of museums would have been prime candidates to acquire this major Hopper, I wanted to try to keep Intermission close to home," said Jeffrey Fraenkel. "SFMOMA's collection provides a superb context for this painting, not least because of the museum's strength in photographs by the likes of Robert Adams, Robert Frank, and William Eggleston, each of whom revered Hopper's sensibility and transformed it into something all their own."

About Edward Hopper

Born in 1889, Hopper grew up in the small Hudson River town of Nyack, New York. From a young age, Hopper attended the theater and film houses with his mother and sister—and later with this wife, Josephine, a former stage actress—where he would make sketches of performers and audience members. An early interest in stage design and cinematic techniques were of particular importance for Hopper and would have a strong influence on his compositions throughout his career.

Hopper's parents encouraged him to study commercial illustration, and in 1899 he attended the Correspondence School of Illustrating in New York. In 1900 he transferred to the New York School of Art (also known as the Chase School and later the Parsons School of Design) and continued his focus on illustration until enrolling in a painting course taught by William Merritt Chase.

From 1903 to 1906 Hopper studied with Robert Henri, a leading figure of the Ashcan school, which was a group of realist painters best known for portraying scenes of everyday life in New York's poorer neighborhoods. Henri was perhaps Hopper's most influential teacher, introducing him to the work of artists Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, both of whom depicted theatrical performances in their work. Following post-graduation travels in Europe, Hopper returned to New York to begin working as an illustrator.

Although he continued to paint and participate in exhibitions, his work was slow to garner attention. He sold his first painting at age 31—Sailboat (1913), which was included in the Armory show that year—and did not sell another work for ten years. At this point in his career, Hopper had developed what would become his signature style of placing solitary figures in sparse interiors or public spaces with a strong focus on light and shadow. Two on the Aisle (1927) is the artist's first complete canvas on this subject, in which he depicts two people taking their seats in a nearly empty theater; the only other person in the audience sits alone reading.

The theater and movies would continue to be one of the main subjects addressed in his compositions including the well-known canvas New York Movie (1939), in which Hopper depicts a female usher standing beneath a hallway light. She appears lost in thought as the audience focuses on the film screening. Importantly, two of the last four paintings that Hopper made before his death were of the theater, Intermission (1963) and Two Comedians (1965), underscoring the sustained significance of this subject matter in his oeuvre.

On September 13, 2005, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth presented Edward Hopper in Four Acts, a small exhibition that offers a rare opportunity to see together five works in four media by one of America ’s great artists. The installation presented the Carter’s recent acquisition Home by the Railroad (charcoal on paper, ca. 1925–28), in addition to two prints, one painting and one watercolor.

Known for his paintings of empty streets, storefronts and solitary figures in urban settings, Edward Hopper (1882–1967) was also an accomplished draftsman, printmaker and watercolorist. This installation focuses on the motif of American vernacular architecture, one of his other great subjects.

In addition to the Carter’s Home by the Railroad,

the exhibition features two prints from the museum’s permanent collection, American Landscape (1920)

and The Lonely House (1923),

as well as loans from private collections: House by an Inlet (oil on canvas, 1930)

and Roofs of the Cobb Barn(watercolor on paper, 1931).

All of these works demonstrate Hopper’s mastery of capturing light in four different media.

Hopper created his drawings and almost all of his watercolors from direct observation. His oil paintings, however, were composed pictures, developed by imaginative reconstruction in which both observation and memory played a part. The houses and architecture depicted in Hopper’s works provided the structural element Hopper needed to experiment with light. Hopper himself once said: “You know, there are many thoughts, many impulses that go into a picture–not just one. Light is an important expressive force for me, but not too consciously so. I think it is a natural expression for me.”

Edward Hopper was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where it debuted May 6 through August 19, 2007; National Gallery of Art, Washington, on view September 16, 2007 through January 21, 2008; and The Art Institute of Chicago, where it was seen February 16 through May 11, 2008. The Edward Hopper exhibition of 96 paintings and works on paper focused on the period of the artist's great achievements—from about 1925 to mid century—when he produced such iconic paintings as

Nighthawks, 1942 oil on canvas, The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection
Automat (1927),

Drug Store (1927),

Early Sunday Morning (1930),

New York Movie (1939).

The classic works of Edward Hopper (1882–1967) capture the realities of urban and rural American life with a poignancy and beauty that have placed them among the most enduring and popular images of the 20th century. This exhibition of 48 oil paintings, 34 watercolors, 12 prints, and two ledger books, arranged chronologically and thematically, revealed Hopper as a creator of compelling images who produced remarkably subtle and painterly effects in both oil and watercolor. It also examined how his images were seen by his contemporaries in the middle decades of the century.

From the late 1920s, Hopper was recognized as one of the most profound American artists, praised for his mastery at painting light, for his direct, eloquent realism, and for his unique sensitivity to modern American life. He excelled as a painter in oils, as a watercolorist, and as a printmaker, and this exhibition presents his greatest work in all three media. The assembled art includes some of Hopper's best-loved images as well as seldom seen works of extraordinary quality and power.

A group of paintings and prints from the 1910s introduces his signature subjects, and reveals his beginnings as an artist influenced by both the American Ashcan school and a fin-de-siècle sensibility to which he was exposed during student years in Paris. The core of the exhibition is dedicated to the mature, highly original images for which he is justly famous: majestic Maine lighthouses; Manhattan apartments, restaurants, and theaters; and the old-fashioned houses of Gloucester and Cape Cod. Hopper's career spanned six decades, and in his epic late paintings, created during the ascendancy of abstract expressionism, he remained a staunch realist, his style marked by increasing simplicity and austerity.