Sunday, October 30, 2005

Edward Hopper - the connection

I have always had an appreciation for art, not so much because I understand the artist's history or the various generes, but simply because I enjoy most artistic expressions. Since I was a young man I have always liked Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. Early on, I never really knew much about American Realism or Hopper himself, but is seems that anyone you have a conversation with about this painting cannot help being intrigued by the depiction of three lonely people sitting in an all night diner. In fact, it has become so popular over the years that many renditions have appeared which range from comedic to Elvis Presley, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe sitting at the counter of the all night diner. Nighthawks hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.

I have been to Chicago several times to view this painting and it is absolutely striking to see it in person. It appears to have much more green to it than if the photo's. However, it is not only Hopper's Nighthawks I have come to love, but virtually all of his works which I have read about in various books that I have purchased, or been given through the years.

My first formal exposure to Nighthawks as a prominent American painting was during an art appreciation class at an undergraduate at Indiana Univeristy. Charles Haynes was the instructor and I remember how much I enjoyed learing about the movement of the Ashcan painters and how American Realism grew out ot that movement. Hopper was mentored by Robert Henri, one of the leaders of this movement at the beginning of the 20th century which depicted painting scenes of daily life in poor urban neighborhoods.

I met my wife during this same period and we were discussing art; she is a big fan of Impressionism, and I mentioned how much I enjoyed Hopper's works and that he was in fact my favorite painter. She mentioned her late grandfather was a urologist in New York City and Edward Hopper was one of his patients. His office was at 121 East 60th Street. At times, he would give Dr. McLellan a book, or lithograph, some of which are still in the family. I have been fortunate enough to have one of the books titled: Edward Hopper, Retrospective Exhibition, Text by Lloyd Goodrich which Edward Hopper provided my wife's grandfather. Inside the cover it reads "To Dr Allister McLellan Edward Hopper", and is signed by a cartridge pen, which was common during this time period. The book is a collection of plates from Whitney Museum of American Art, Museum of Fine Arts and Detroit Institute of Arts - These include: Evening Wind, 1921 - Room in New York, 1932 which clearly resemble the inside of Hopper's studio which was located at 3 Washington Square North, in Greenwich Village.

As I have studied Hopper and come to adore his works, upon a recent trip to NYC I decided to walk by his studio and home which was a flat in Greenwich Village at 3 Washington Square North. This address is on the northside of Washington Square Park and the door is not an entrance these days, as the building is occupied by New York University's Sociology Department. The door is still there with the number #3 on it in the event you would like to take a photo on the steps of this Greenwich Village walk-up.

You can walk around the corner of the building "to the northeast" and find a door that says "NYU Sociology Department", and the receptionist with let you go up and see Edward and Josephine's flat and studio. You must leave your ID at the receptionist station. When NYU bought the Washington Square building the Hopper's lived and worked in, the agreement was that their flat and studio would always be retained and visitors could come in and tour it on their own during the hours the sociology department is open.

The flat and studio for the most part are vacant, but there are several photo's sitting around of Hopper painting in the studio which has a fireplace and a beautiful window facing due south overlooking Washington Square. One of the large black and white photo's shows Hopper standing next to the fireplace. It is small and quaint and provides more insight into Hopper the man, and his lifestyle. You can take pictures while you are there.

Also, I encourage you to hang out in the area; this is the heart of NYU and Washington Park is a wonderful green space to sit and enjoy the atmosphere of college life in Greenwich Village.