South Carolina Morning, 1955
Edward Hopper’s paintings are famous for capturing an overwhelming sense of loneliness and solitude. And thanks to his absolute mastery with a brush, he stands alone as an American art institution.
A new show at the Whitney, however, takes Hopper out of isolation and places him alongside his contemporaries at the turn of the 20th century, including Alfred Stieglitz, John Sloan and Charles Burchfield.
We spoke with co-curator Sasha Nicholas about Hopper and his relationships.
Hopper was part of a movement, the Ashcan School, that turned its eye to the daily life around it. Ashcan painters’ subjects were people at cafes or just walking on the street. As Hopper was a resident of New York City, these were his people.
“But just the way Hopper was, his psychology, I think he always felt like an outsider,” Nicholas said. “When you look at his paintings, I think there’s always that sense ... of somebody who’s looking at things but a little outside or withdrawn.”
His fellow artists
“He was very deeply involved with the Ashcan … because those were his teachers and the artists he came of age with. And he always remained very close to them even though his art changed,” Nicholas said.
But as time went on, he distanced himself from his peers.
“The artists from the ’30s were probably less close to him. They were younger. They embraced him and he was always friendly with them, but they were so interested in painting the hustle and bustle of New York and he wasn’t,” Nicholas said.
The Whitney Museum
The Whitney and Hopper have always had an intimate relationship. So much so that Hopper’s wife bequeathed their collection to the museum after her death in 1968.
It all started with Gertrude Whitney, the museum’s founder, whom Hopper had met through friend and fellow painter Guy Pène du Bois, who would go to the opera with Whitney. Whitney gave Hopper his first solo exhibition in 1920.
“He really didn’t start getting famous until 1924. So to have the show in 1920 ... It was so meaningful to him that that was really the core of his loyalty to the museum,” said Nicholas.
If you go: “Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time”
• At the Whitney Museum of American Art through April 10
• 945 Madison Ave., at 75th St. (6 to 77th St.), 212-671-5300, whitney.org