May 29, 2009

Gallery Acquires Important Edward Hopper Drawings

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Gallery has announced its purchase of important preparatory drawings by American artist Edward Hopper for two of his celebrated paintings, Rooms by the Sea (1951) and Western Motel (1957), both in the Gallery’s collection. The drawings related to Rooms by the Sea are rendered on two sides of a single sheet of paper, while the sheet related to Western Motel contains a single sketch. Each of the drawings provides rare insight into the evolution of the related painting.

Preparatory studies for Hopper’s paintings are particularly important, since by the time the artist took brush to canvas he had worked through most of the compositional problems (x-rays of these canvases only rarely show any alterations).

Jock Reynolds, The Henry J. Heinz II Director of the Gallery, states, “These wonderful working drawings shed light on Hopper’s creative process, while also providing important documentary information about the paintings to which they are related. For the Gallery, where studio art and art history students are a constant presence, such works provide a terrific teaching resource.”

Helen Cooper, Holcombe T. Green Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture, adds, “The Gallery’s collection of paintings by Edward Hopper, a highlight of its world renowned holdings in American art, has been greatly enriched by the acquisition of these studies. They join several other pencil and charcoal studies by the artist in the collection, including another preparatory drawing for Western Motel and 17 sheets for Sunlight in a Cafeteria, of 1958. All of these studies reward close looking: When viewed beside their finished paintings they illuminate the path that Hopper took in the formulation of his final compositions.”

Rooms by the Sea and the Studies

Rooms by the Sea, widely recognized as one of Hopper’s most mysterious works, is one of only three known Hopper interiors without figures. Suggested by a view from the house that Hopper and his wife, Jo, built on a bluff overlooking the bay at Truro, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the painting depicts a room whose door opens—seemingly directly—onto the ocean. Although glimpses of furnishings in aback room imply a human presence, Hopper’s primary interest in the painting seems to be the shaft of bright sunlight that falls across the wall and floor of the bare front room, yielding an image that evokes feelings of both profound silence and unease.

 The studies for Rooms by the Sea open a window into Hopper’s creative process. His initial concept is represented by the simple view on the verso of the sheet, showing an open door, a wall, a floor, and a glimpse of the space outside the house. The fuller study on the recto adds a number of details, including a framed picture on the front wall, a rug in front of the open door, and, in the rear room, a sofa and a round table. In the painting, Hopper pares the composition to its essential details, moving the framed picture to the back room; removing the rug; repositioning the door from the left to the right side of the jamb; and replacing the round table with a rectilinear dresser. The end result is an enigmatic and haunting image of a sun-struck interior.

Western Motel and the Study

Western Motel pictures a woman seated on the edge of a bed in an unadorned motel room, looking directly out at the viewer. Two packed suitcases at the lower left corner of the composition and a robe thrown over the arm of the chair at the lower right suggest that the woman has either just arrived or is just preparing to depart. A large picture-window looks out onto the windshield of a Buick and the profile of buttes beyond. As with the earlier painting, Western Motel is marked by simple lines and a stark geometry of light and dark.

The study for Western Motel shows two seated figures at the left and one at the far right, in what appears to be a motel lobby. A picture window looks out onto a sign atop a tall post and the front of a car against a landscape. The vista continues through a second picture window at the left, balanced by a solid wood door at the right.

Once again, in creating his painting, Hopper altered and stripped away details included in the study. Most notably, three figures have been reduced to one, and a motel lobby space has become a motel room. The picture window occupying the left wall of the sketch has become a solid wall in the painting, highlighted by a shaft of bright light, and the solid wood door at the right has become a glass door.

Edward Hopper

Born in Nyack, New York, Edward Hopper (1882–1967) maintained a commitment to realism throughout his career, despite the rising popular preference for abstraction. In 1933, a retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, sparked a debate over whether Hopper was, in fact, a “modern” artist. By the time of his 1950 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York, with Abstract Expressionism on the rise, he was viewed as an artist working in an obsolete style. Yet by 1964, when his work was the subject of another retrospective at the Whitney, Hopper was hailed as a forefather of the newly ascendant Pop Art and Photorealism.

Today, Hopper is internationally regarded as one of the most important and influential American artists of the twentieth century, one whose work speaks to a wide audience. Over the last three decades, groundbreaking exhibitions of his work have been shown in major museums in American and abroad.

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