Museum visit: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts “Edward Hopper and the American Hotel”

What an unusual and fascinating show of an impressive 65 paintings and drawings of Edward Hopper’s very personal interpretation of hotels, motels, tourist homes and boarding houses. The themes of loneliness, isolation, strangenes are so starkly represented in these works. You will not be dissappointed.

When I visit a show for the first time, I try not to read too much of the descriptions of the work preferring to take in the visual information first. In this case, I did stop to read a description of just why Hopper came upon this theme of American hotels. It literally started out as an illustration job for many travel magazines. I envy him. I too enjoy travel and would love to be paid to do just as Hopper did. Hopper and his wife Jo loved traveling and staying in many motels and hotels. Jo kept meticulous journals of their travels and some are included in the show.

Approaching the entrance to the show you must walk through a “lobby” similar to a lobby in one of Hopper’s paintings. I was taken back for a moment because I did not expect to see this. It was such a pleasant surprise. You feel like you are walking into a Hopper painting. The man in the yellow shirt really fit in the composition well. My husband reading the paper also fit in, although his clothes were too contemporary. Such a neat idea to include a hotel interior. You can also “rent” a night at the museum in one of the bedrooms fashioned after Hopper. I understand it might be sold out though. I think that is carrying this theme just a little too far but a fun idea for some.

“Hotel Lobby” painted in 1952 is a perfect example of Hopper’s uncanny way of capturing the raw essence of a mood. We immediately feel the drama of a specific room and specific moment in time. All of our senses are pulled into the dark mahoganies, turquoise and grey green world of this hotel lobby. The hotel palette is understood and accentuated by Hopper with dramatic interior lighting. There are actually four figures in this painting. It is said, ” that the older couple are believed to represent Hopper and his wife, at that date in their 60s. The hotel guests have been described as being “both traveling and suspended in time,” The young woman is Jo, Hopper’s wife, who happens to be the female model for all of his paintings. In fact, all of the women Hopper painted started with the image of his wife Jo because she only allowed him to use her as a model. The desk clerk is eerily lurking in the back. I did not see him in the painting when first viewing.

I love seeing the sketches for this painting and to see how Hopper arrived at the final composition. His drawing skills are impeccable and actually more free flowing than the paint.

“Hotel Lobby” 32-1/4 x 40-3/4 in.

Looks like a beautiful catalog of the show you can order here Leo G. Mazow, with Sarah G. Powers

For further reading see: From the Indianapolis Museum of Art: Listen to An interesting interview of “Paper to Paint” another showing of Hopper. A conversation between curator Marty Krause and former curator Harriet Warkel regarding Hotel Lobby. Warkel’s essay “Paper to paint: Edward Hopper’s Hotel Lobby is also very interesting to read.

A few more gems from the show.

“Eleven A.M” 1926 So simply stated. Every form locking into each other to fill the stage. The very pallid Jo staring out the window in a pensive attitude.
“Morning in a City” 1944 This jpeg image does not convey the strong pink chroma on the right side of the windowsill and subtlety extends to the breast and hair . These are the only two warm reddish tones. No one can paint the gorgeous light on a windowsill like Hopper. It is very thick and juicy. The building facade looks like a face looking in the window to me Many of Hopper’s houses have that quality of a human face.
“Night Shadows” etching 1921 “The setting that inspired Hopper was an actual location in New York, which the artist also used for his oil painting ‘New York Corner’ (also known as ‘Corner Saloon’, 1913; Museum of Modern Art, New York). It is a downtown street near the riverfront, marked by a simple brick building with a painted sign; Hopper makes the scene feel so ominous. The long shadows, the mysterious shadowy man. Reminds me of a radio program my parents would always quote from “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!,” 

I would never presume to interpret a Hopper painting. I only know how I react to them. As a landscape painter I have always loved Hopper’s landscapes and iconic paintings like “Nighthawks” and “Gas”, but these lonely interiors I was not attracted to. His imagery I found to be too stark, too odd, and his strange sad world simply did not appeal to my young eyes. I really missed flowing bravura brushwork, beautiful scenery, lush landscapes and figures that twist and turn like a Rubens does. Now, as a more mature painter it is for these very reasons I am attracted to his imagery and find it fascinating.

Jo was an artist too and resented the fact that Hopper never really supported her work. Nonetheless she was a great help to him and “protected” him from outside interferences. Hopper was a very introspective man who loved reading, movies, theatre and not really a social butterfly or warm and fuzzy. When asked what he was after in his paintings, Hopper responded, “I’m after me.” “Hopper was looking for meaning in himself” How do I put my personal experiences into this painting? Something we should all ask ourselves about our own work.

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