“Office in a Small City”
By Edward Hopper (1953)
While we wait on more Cliff Lee news…
New York Movie, By Edward Hopper (1939)
And from Pops…
Jeremiah Moss, who runs the most excellent blog, Vanishing New York, has a piece in the Times about the location of Edward Hopper’s famous painting, “Nighthawks.” Moss dug through archival photographs and microfilm to pinpoint the exact spot only to discover that the scene Hopper painted didn’t entirely exist in the first place:
Back home, I dug through my bookshelves and unearthed Gail Levin’s “Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography.” The book is autographed by the author — I had gone to hear Ms. Levin read in a bookshop that is now gone — and dated from a time when I was still new to the city and knew it largely, romantically, as a sprawling Hopper painting filled with golden, melancholy light. In the book, Ms. Levin reported that an interviewer wrote that the diner was “based partly on an all-night coffee stand Hopper saw on Greenwich Avenue … ‘only more so,’” and that Hopper himself said: “I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger. Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”
Partly. More so. Simplified. The hidden truth became clearer. The diner began to fade. And then I saw it — on every triangular corner, in the candy shop’s cornice and the newsstand’s advertisement for 5-cent cigars, in the bakery’s curved window and the liquor store’s ghostly wedge, in the dark bricks that loom in the background of every Village street.
Over the past years, I’ve watched bakeries, luncheonettes, cobbler shops and much more come tumbling down at an alarming rate, making space for condos and office towers. Now the discovery that the “Nighthawks” diner never existed, except as a collage inside Hopper’s imagination, feels like yet another terrible demolition, though no bricks have fallen.
I’ve come to appreciate Moss’ blog–it’s a regular stop for me–but I don’t share his disappointment here because I think an artist’s natural inclination is to combine his (or her) imagination with what they see in real life. Once it becomes a picture, on the canvas, it has its own rules, and isn’t meant to be a document like a photograph. And this picture gets at one of Hopper’s most compelling (and enduring) themes–”the lonliness of the big city.”
When I look at the painting, actually, my eye always goes across the street to the empty store front on the left-hand side of the canvas, the triangle-shape of green in the middle window above that store. I love how it gives balance to the scene inside the diner. It is an empty space but sturdy and sure.
Early Sunday Morning, By Edward Hopper (1930)
There is a big Hopper exhibition in Rome right now. Last weekend, there was an interesting piece in the Times by Michael Kimmelman about the the show:
I quizzed some Italians and also a few New Yorkers at the exhibition, and it wasn’t that the Italians didn’t “get” Hopper, or didn’t like him. He’s world famous by now, beloved, and the Italians easily brought up the links to film noir and Antonioni. But New Yorkers, naturally, spoke quite differently about him.
…It’s about projection, in other words, which all good art provokes, whether by Sargent, Zille, Moore or Hopper, whose laconic and merciless drawings can, seen by a New Yorker passing through Rome, have a kind of Proustian eloquence. I stared at the ones he did of summer in the city and the sun splashing across Lower Manhattan before carrying my tracings of two of them to a favorite Sicilian bakery a few blocks away from the Piazza Colonna. It was unconscious, deciding to go there, but I realized it was because the cannoli reminded me of ones I fetched as a boy from a cafe on MacDougal Street, where the owner used to pack them in little white cardboard boxes tied with striped red string. I carried the pastries home to my family, past the Hopper-like brownstones, through the concrete park that faced our house, and across Sixth Avenue to our apartment, under what in my memory was forever a dusky Hopper sky.
Morning Sun, By Edward Hopper (1952)
Okay, so it’s the late afternoon, not the morning; the sun is still out, and this picture still sings.