See New York Through Hopper’s Eyes

Hopper’s easel holds his painting, Early Sunday Morning (1930) at the Whitney.

Hopper’s easel holds his painting, Early Sunday Morning (1930) at the Whitney.

If you thought you knew about Edward Hopper, think again. The Whitney’s show, Hopper Drawing, provides surprises galore from curator Carter Foster, who has presented the museum’s trove of Hopper drawings in a fresh, new context. The Whitney has more Hopper drawings (made for his private use) than any other museum in America, and about half are up on the walls. Go before October 6.

Although Hopper’s representational work is considered by his fans to signify “realism”, Foster has unearthed and organized zillions of preparatory drawings that demonstrate that this is hardly the case. Hopper, as he often said, worked “from fact” but added improvisational touches that pretty much made the canvases perfect. A case in point is New York Movie, where one side of the canvas is “real”, and the other side is completely imaginary. His sketchbook from the Palace Theater proves it.

Whitney exhibition card showing map and 1914 photograph of the West Village storefronts depicted in the above oil painting

Whitney exhibition card showing map and 1914 photograph of the West Village storefronts depicted in the above oil painting

To prove this point, you’ll see the most famous Hopper paintings right alongside his preparatory sketches and sketchbooks to see his meticulous decision making process. Go to the exhibition web site (or our Flickr feed) and flip through images of Hopper’s iconic oils (such as New York Movie  and Chicago’s Nighthawks), followed by sketches and studies where Hopper worked out all the compositional kinks.

Hopper lived and worked right inside the row of gorgeous 1830s townhouses along Washington Square North. It’s a complete surprise to find that NYU still preserves Hopper’s studio intact, complete with his print press and easel.

Foster convinced NYU to loan it to the show, and it’s an electrifying reminder that artists once walked the streets of the Village and then came back to paint. You’ll stand face-to-face with the working easel that Hopper used to paint every one of his great works. Early Sunday Morning is perched, right where it sat in 1930, facing the Hopper’s other icon Nighthawks, on loan from Chicago’s Art Institute. The width of those canvases precisely matches the width of the easel.

Installation view of Hopper’s New York Movie (1939), on loan from MoMA

Installation view of Hopper’s New York Movie (1939), on loan from MoMA

So, that left a question: Where these real places, or fictions made up entirely in Hopper’s mind? Foster spent time trying to figuring it out, and thankfully the Whitney recorded the answers on its YouTube video. Take a walk with him and see the Village and the Flatiron through Hopper’s eyes back in the 1930s. You’ll never look at Nighthawks the same way again. Genius.

For theater fans: It’s not in the video, but Hopper’s sketchbooks are also filled with drawings of Times Square theaters — the Palace, the Globe (now the Lunt-Fontanne), the Republic (now the New Victory; formerly Minsky’s Burlesque),  and the Strand (where Morgan Stanley now sits).

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