Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Impression of America

In general it can be said that a nation's art is greatest
when it most reflects the character of its people.”
Edward Hopper

One of, if not the most revered of American painters Edward Hopper, whilst influenced by the French impressionists, depicted an unfaltering personal view of 20th Century America.

As he wrote in the catalogue essay, Notes on Painting, for his 1933 Museum of Modern Art exhibition “My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature.

Be they scenes from Cape Cod, the streets of New York, his interior monologues or seascapes, Hopper remained true to his vision in the face of the changing tastes of the turbulent New York art scene.

As he wrote in 1953 for the Reality Magazine “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 intellect for a pristine 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" as 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.

Over the course of three trips to Paris between 1906 and 1910 Hopper came under the spell of impressionists in general and Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet in particular. An influence that re-enforced of his dislike of illustration which had predicated the start of his artistic career by his parents’ insistence that he study commercial art to ensure a reliable income.

It was not until the 1920s that Hopper was able to dispense with the financial need his illustrative works fulfilled.  The shy, introspective artist’s meeting of the vivacious and outgoing fellow artist Josephine Nivison, who he married in 1924, changed his life. She subordinated her career and took over the management of his and became his primary model. She inspired Hopper to add watercolors to his predominately oil painting based oeuvre and his sell out exhibition of them in the year of their marriage made illustration a thing of the past.

Under her management Hopper’s career blossomed with exhibitions and purchases by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum.
Over the next 40 years Hopper would go on to become a major influence in American art and whilst changing tastes diminished his critical acclaim he never lost favor with the American public with several of his works like Nighthawks, New York Movie and House by the Railroad becoming  instantly recognizable cultural icons.

Whilst his realistic depictions of both urban and rural American life resonate his interest in light and its effects are a dominate feature within his work. As he is reported to have said five years before his death in 1962 “I think I’m still an impressionist.”

Pittsburg’s Carnegie Museum of Art is currently showing 17 of his works in the CMOA Collects Edward Hopper exhibition until the 26th of October.

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