Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Edward Hopper exhibition in Paris

We were lucky to get in as we did not book in advance and this is THE exhibition to see in Paris at the moment. We had to queue for 45 minutes, but it was worth the wait.

Before writing about this exhibition, I would like to stress the great attitude and friendliness of the museum staff. As we were with children, they told us that we could wait inside in the warm lobby rather than outside in the cold. Such friendly service is not customary in France and they deserve all the credit they can get.

This exhibition, curated by Didier Ottinger (assistant director of the MNAM – Centre Pompidou), presents a large selection of Hopper’s oil paintings, but also some watercolours, etchings and a sample of his illustration work.

Girl at Sewing Machine by Edward Hopper (Source: Wikimedia)
The first part of the exhibition explores the early years (1900-1924) and also showcases works by contemporaries who influenced Hopper when he stayed in Paris. The second part covers his mature years, with works we are more familiar with, like the House by the Railroad painted in 1924.
My impressions from the exhibition
Hopper went into illustration not by choice, but to earn some money. His illustrations show that he was good at drawing and could do detailed figures without any problem. The more abstract depiction of figures in his later work is therefore an artistic choice, not the result of technical shortcomings.
Smash The Hun - Dry Dock Dial cover (Source: Wikimedia)

The series of etchings are very interesting. They form a bridge between the illustration work and the artistic side of his practice. You can see already some of the urban themes that will appear again in his oil paintings from the mature period. The black and white media is also well suited for depicting dramatic lights and shadows.
House tops – etching 6 x 8 in., 1921 (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
 - (Source: Wikimedia)

The watercolours are really good and I am not surprised that they helped him to get his first gallery show. The ones done on thin paper were better than the ones done on heavy watercolour paper. I think it is because the colours sunk in the paper more quickly, leaving brighter and bolder marks that were more connected to Hopper’s style. The drawback of using a thinner paper was that it buckled.

How to define Hopper’s style?

Subjects: most paintings have in them a house or an urban element. There are exceptions, but he had a predilection for well lit houses, in particular the wooden houses in the New England style. Scenes are taken from ordinary life and describe the banal intimacy of the life of ordinary people.

People are often there, on the side of the canvas; one, two or three, rarely more. There is a quietness and sometimes a sadness about Hopper’s paintings.
Soir Bleu by Edward Hopper (Source: Wikimedia)
Windows play a key role in Hopper’s paintings, as a source of light, but also as a frame. People are observed through windows, in the intimacy of their homes or at the bar, like in the famous painting Nighthawks. A window is a frame within the frame.

Nighthawks – oil on canvas by Edward Hopper (Source: Wikimedia)
Technique: Very few oil paintings have any visible texture or brush marks. The two exceptions were two seascape paintings: Cove at Ogunquit (1914) and Sea at Ongunquit (1914).

The light: In Hopper’s work, the light is so important that it becomes a subject of the painting. He is a master at depicting light at the end of the day, dramatic shadows and striking contrasts.
Hotel Lobby by Edward Hopper (Source: Wikimedia)
Compositions: All of Hopper’s works are carefully staged, with elaborate composition, despite the simplicity of the subjects. Lights and shadows form and integral part of the composition and bring an abstract feel to the background in paintings that are otherwise figurative.

Chop Suey (Source: Wikimedia)

Exhibition details
Edward Hopper
Grand Palais, Galeries nationales
10 October 2012 – 28 January 2013
Site for the exhibition

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