Edward Hopper was born on July 22, 1882, and may have been better at using light in his work than any other artist of his time until his death on May 15, 1967. Hopper is most famous for painting people sitting inside a window or posed in a room surrounded by much light. In a book titled “Edward Hopper” edited by Carter E. Foster it is said “His vision is so distinctive and compelling that solitary figures glimpsed through apartment windows or ghostly Victorian houses in deep shadow are said to be Hopperesque.” (Foster, pg 37) Hopper grew up in Nyack, New York and attended the New York School of Art, where he learned much of his skill.
I have an attraction to Edward Hopper’s art because of his use of light to project the focus of his image. This is evident in all his work; however one of the most evident is titled “Morning Sun” done in 1952. (Foster, pg 200) In the book titled “Edward Hopper” edited by Cater E. Foster it shows his study drawing for this particular piece. All of his notes about this picture are concerned with light, writing such things as: warmer, darker shadow and cool gray. In the image a girl is sitting on her bed, hugging her knees looking out of the window in front of her as the morning sun streams into the room. The pose that the girl is in yields many shadows, the range of values that Hopper uses is very broad. The composition is even more compelling by the use of very light areas adjacent to dark areas, yet the smooth transition still seems evident.
One of Hopper’s most famous paintings titled “Nighthawks”, not only uses light effectively, but incorporates simple straight geometric lines keeping the image uncomplicated while holding the interest and curiosity of the viewer. There is both a feeling of familiarity with the street scene and the diner and a desire to know more about the lives of the characters pictured; what is the relationship of the couple? What is the waiter saying? is the man sitting alone a stranger in town? The painting invites the viewer to create a story as is true of many of Hopper’s paintings, but this image has opposing concepts of isolation and companionship with the late night hour. The strangers are, on the surface, sharing a common circumstance at that moment.
The painting “Night Windows” again uses light so incredibly. The viewer can clearly place himself outside looking in almost invading one’s privacy. Hopper composes a dark exterior structure with just enough light cast from the interior light onto the exterior to define the building. One gets the impression of looking at a second story apartment of a stone townhouse, yet it is a very dark night. By contrast the interior light is very bright allowing a clear view into the apartment with its furnishings and the woman occupying the space. The open window with the curtain blowing indicates a warm summer breeze as does the fact that the woman is dressed only in a slip. The viewer’s imagination is stirred to give a story background to the painted image. As with “Nighthawks”, the lines in “Night Window” are very simple and geometric. It is the shadows with the light and dark contrasts that create such a realistic picture. In comparison to “Morning Sun” which portrays natural daylight, “Night Window” and “Nighthawks” are depicting an interior artificial light in a night setting. The former is warmer with more variation in the shading whereas the night scenes are sharper and more intense in their brightness.
Edward Hoppers work exhibits so many fascinating traits. I am most drawn to his use of light, and the noticeable contrast of value in his work. His pictures are very enjoyable to an audience, because it is up to the viewer to determine exactly what is going on in his paintings.
Foster, Carter E.-editor. "Edward Hopper". Skira Editore. Italy. 2009.
Troyen, Carol, Barter, Judith A., Davis, Elliot, Comey, Janet L., Roberts,
Ellen. "Edward Hopper". Thames & Hudson Ltd. United Kingdom.
Hopper, Edward. "Morning Sun". Painting. 1952.
Hopper, Edward. "Nighthawks". Painting. 1942.
Hopper, Edward. "Night Windows". Painting. 1928.