Edward Hopper (1882–1967)

America’s foremost modern painter; famous for his portrayal of American landscapes, urban streets and a vernacular American architecture

By Alexandra A. Jopp

The poet of quotidian scenes, Hopper became known as one of the America’s most admired realist painters of the twentieth century, as well as one of the greatest American scene painters, whose works are considered icons of modern art.

I. Biography
II. Chronology
III. Collections
IV. Exhibitions
V. Memberships
VI. Notes
VII. Suggested Resources

I. Biography

Edward Hopper is on the short list of America’s greatest artists. In numerous etchings, watercolors and oils, he depicted ordinary Americans and scenes from everyday life that are considered icons of modern art. His subjects were painted in an expansive and simplified realistic style that used stark contrasts of light and shadow. The mood and atmosphere characteristic of Hopper’s paintings can be seen in his best known works, such as Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929) New York Movie,(1930); Office at Night (1940); Gas (1940) and Nighthawks (1942), one of the most famous paintings in the history of American art.

Hopper was born on July 22, 1882, in Nyack, N.Y., on the Hudson River, a few miles north of Manhattan. His roots reach back to the old Dutch settlements that interrupt the wooded bluffs and promontories along the lower Hudson River. His father, Garret Henry Hopper, ran a dry goods store. His mother, Elizabeth Griffiths Smith Hopper, encouraged her children’s interest in theatre and art. Hopper’s early training took place at the New York School of Art under such artists as William Merritt Chase, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Robert Henri. For nearly 20 years afterward, Hopper made his living as an illustrator.

Between 1906 and 1910, Hopper made three trips to Europe, spending much of his time in Paris. While he apparently was not influenced by the radical artistic movements such as Cubism and Fauvism then emerging in the French capital, he did embrace Impressionist techniques. As Gail Levin observed in Hopper’s Places, “Not only did the pastel tonalities of Renoir, Sisley, and Monet motivate him to lighten his own palette, but under the influence of their work, he also painted with shorter, more broken brushstrokes.”1 Though the strokes were fluid, he placed them so precisely that the whole work becomes sharp and clear. Hopper was so committed to realism, to portraying life as he saw it in front of him that he said that his “aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription of my most intimate impressions of nature.”2

In 1913, Hopper was included in New York City’s famous Armory Show exhibition, and he sold his painting Sailing (1911) there. He then began his career as a commercial artist, though he wanted to paint “sunlight on the side of a house.” He first exhibited at the Whitney Studio Club in 1920, but it was during the next decade that he developed his own way of looking at things. In 1924, when he was 42 years old; he was given a one-man exhibition at the Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery in New York City. The show sold out, and Hopper became a sensation in the art world. That was also the year he married the painter Josephine Verstille Nivison. By 1925, he had given up on commercial art and was devoting himself primarily to oils and watercolors. A few years later, the now-established Hopper and his wife started dividing their time between New York and a summer home on Cape Cod, though they also traveled across the United States and into Mexico. Hopper depicted in his paintings many of the sights they came upon during those trips. In 1942, he produced his signature work, Nighthawks, a depiction of an urban diner that masterfully uses light and space.

Edward Hopper was one of the America’s best and most important representational painters of the twentieth century. He was a modernist, a symbolist, a realist and a self-proclaimed Impressionist. He was, Philip Leider wrote, “one of the very few artists whose work cuts across all the lines of contention that characterized his times.”3 Hopper searched for the typical scene, not the flamboyant one, and found that he often had to choose from a number of experiences and reduce them to a common denominator on which to base his style. He paid special interest to architecture – buildings, cafés, shops, lighthouses, railroad stations – to means of transportation – trains, boats, automobiles – and to figures related to his surroundings. Hopper’s evocative images – like the works of Picasso, whom Hopper considered “unpredictable” – show us a new way of seeing the twentieth century.

II. Chronology

1882 Born on July 22 in Nyack, N.Y.
1899 Graduated from Nyack High School and studied illustration at the Correspondence School of Illustrating, New York City
1900-6 Studied at the William Merritt Chase School of Art (later the New York School of Art and now Parsons, The New School for Design)
1906-7 Spent a year in Europe, primarily in Paris.
1907 Sailed to New York City and worked as a commercial artist
1908 Began to exhibit at the Harmonie Club in New York City
1909-10 Drawn to French culture, Manet and other impressionists, he returned to Europe
1910 Included in “Exhibition of Independent Artists” in New York City
1913 Sailing (1911) sold at Armory Show in New York City
1915 Began to etch and created 52 plates over next 13 years
1916 Paris watercolor caricatures reproduced in Arts and Decoration
1918 Exhibited etchings at Chicago Society of Etchers
1920 First one-person exhibition, Whitney Studio Club, New York City
1921-5 Included in annual exhibition at Whitney Studio Club, New York City
1922 Exhibited Paris watercolor caricatures at Whitney Studio Club
1923 Received Logan Prize, Chicago Society of Etchers
1924 Married painter Josephine Verstille Nivison on July 9
1924 One-person exhibition of watercolors at Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery in New York City sold out
1926 Included in “Today in American Art” group exhibition, Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery; one-person exhibition of watercolors and etchings at St. Botolph Club, Boston
1929 One-person exhibition of drawings, watercolors and oils, Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery; included in “Paintings by Nineteen Living Americans” exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, New York City
1933 Retrospective exhibition, Museum of Modern Art, New York City.
1934 Retrospective exhibition, Arts Club of Chicago
1935 Received Gold Temple Gold Medal, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and first purchase prize in watercolor, Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Mass.
1937 Received W. A. Clark Prize and Corcoran Gold Medal, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
1942 Received Ada S. Garrett Prize, Art Institute of Chicago
1942 Painted Nighthawks (1942), arguably his most famous work
1945 Received Logan Art Institute Medal and Honorarium, Art Institute of Chicago; elected to National Institute of Arts and Letters
1950 Retrospective exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art; show toured to Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Detroit Institute of Arts; received honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from Art Institute of Chicago
1952 Included among four artists chosen by American Federation of Arts as United States’ representatives at Venice Biennale
1953 Received honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Rutgers University
1954 Received first prize for watercolors, Butler Art Institute, Youngstown, Ohio
1955 Received Gold Medal for Painting from National Institute of Arts and Letters
1956-7 Received Huntington Hartford Foundation fellowship for six months at foundation headquarters, Pacific Palisades, Calif.
1957 Received New York Board of Trade’s Salute to the Arts Award and first prize, Fourth International Hallmark Art Award
1959 One-person exhibition, Currier Museum of Art; Manchester, N.H.; show toured to Rhode Island School of Design
1960 One-person exhibition, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Conn.; received Art in America annual award
1962 Retrospective exhibition of graphic work, Philadelphia Museum of Art; show toured to Worcester Art Museum, Worcester Mass.
1963 Retrospective exhibition, Arizona Art Gallery, South Truro, Mass.; received award from St. Botolph Club, Boston
1964 Retrospective exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art; show toured in 1965 to Art Institute of Chicago, Detroit Institute of Arts, and City Art Museum, St. Louis, Mo.; received M. V. Kohnstamm Prize for Painting from Art Institute of Chicago; fell ill, leaving him unable to paint
1965 Received honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree, Philadelphia College of Art; completed last work, Two Comedians
1966 Received Edward MacDowell Medal from MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H.
1967 Died on May 15 in his studio in New York City

III. Collections

Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Mass.
Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe, Ariz.
Art Institute of Chicago
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine
Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery, Canajoharie, N.Y.
Canton Museum of Art, Canton, Ohio
Cincinnati Art Museum
Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences, Charleston, W.V.
Cleveland Museum of Art
Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, N.H.
Dallas Museum of Art
Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio
Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington, Del.
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Okla.
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Mass.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.
Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tenn.
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
Maier Museum of Art at Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Lynchburg, Va.
Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University, Dallas
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, N.J.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Muskegon Museum of Art, Muskegon, Mich.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, N.Y.
Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Fla.
Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, Okla.
Palmer Museum of Art at Pennsylvania State University, University Park. Penn.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Philadelphia Museum of Art
San Diego Museum of Art
Sheldon Art Gallery, Lincoln, Neb.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Smithsonian Institution Art Inventories, Washington, D.C.
Swope Art Museum, Terre Haute, Ind.
Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma, Wash.
Tate Gallery, London
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago
The Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.
The Newark Museum, Newark, N.J.
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid
Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, Ohio
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Va.
Virtual Museum of Canada
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Conn.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, Penn.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Mass.
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

IV. Exhibitions

1913 Armory Show
1912-81 MacDowell Club
1966 MacDowell Club
1917 Society of Independent Artists
1918-24 Chicago SE
1919 Penguin Club
1920-29 Whitney Studio Club
1920 National Arts Club
1920 Ontario AG
1920-25 Brooklyn Society of Etchers
1921-23 Los Angeles County Museum of Art
1921-23 National Academy of Design
1922 American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters
1923-25 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1923 Brooklyn Museum
1923-28 Cleveland Museum of Art
1923 Corcoran
1924 Rehn Gallery
1925 New York Public Library
1925 Alliance
1925 Macbeth Gallery
1925 Brooklyn Museum
1926 Boston Art Club
1926 Cincinnati Art Museum
1927 Downtown Gallery
1928 Cincinnati Art Museum
1928 Rehn Gallery
1928 Downtown Gallery
1928 Fogg AM
1928 Wadsworth Athenaeum
1928 Philips Memorial Gallery
1928 Detroit Institute of Arts
1928 Albright-Knox Art Gallery
1928 Carnegie Institute
1928 Corcoran
1930 National Arts Club
1931 Pan-Am Expo Baltimore
1932-60s Whitney Museum of American Art
1933 Museum of Modern Art
1935 Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
1937 Corcoran
1954 Venice Biennale
1954 Rhode Island School of Design
1954 Currier Gallery
1954 Butler AI
1962 Philadelphia MA
1962 Worcester Museum of Art
1963 Arizona Art Gallery
1967 Sao Paulo Bienal
1979-80 Whitney Museum of American Art Traveling Exhibition, including Detroit Institute of Arts, Milwaukee Art Center, Seattle Art Museum, Boston Museum of Fine Arts
2004 Tate Modern
2007 Museum of Fine Arts
2007-8 National Gallery of Art
2009 Bucerius Kunst Forum

V. Memberships

American Academy of Arts and Letters
National Institute of Arts and Letters

VI. Notes

1: Levin, Gail. Hopper’s Places. (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1998), p. 151.

2: Morgan, Ann Lee. The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists. (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 229.

3: Leider, Philip. “Vermeer and Hopper,” Art in America 89, no. 3 (2001): p.103.

VII. Suggested Resources

Hobbs, Robert. Edward Hopper. New York: Harry N. Abrahms, Inc., 1987.

Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996.

Leider, Philip. “Vermeer and Hopper.” Art in America 89 (3): 96-103.

Morgan, Ann Lee. The Oxford Dictionary of American Art and Artists. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Taylor, Joshua C. The Fine Arts in America. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago, 1979.

Wagstaff, Sheena., David Anfam and Brian O’Doherty. Edward Hopper. London: Tate, 2004.

Wells, Walter. Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2007.