How did Hopper make his way through illustration, etching, and watercolors, to oil painting? Hopper had an incredibly interesting life and experimented with many forms of art, even though he was always more passionate about painting. Read on to discover how Hopper's life influenced these changes in his artwork.
Edward Hopper was brought up in a town of Hudson River, where he developed a love of nautical life. He “studied” at the Correspondence School of Illustrating in New York City from 1899-1900 which was actually a home instruction school where people could “learn to draw by mail” (Levin 28) . Afterwards he transferred to the New York School of Art from 1900-1906 that offered a “full range of instruction not only in commercial but also fine art,” (33). He began studying painting and drawing a after just a year at the New York School of Art in 1901.
In the autumn of 1906 Hopper went to Paris to study works by European artists, educating himself by visiting museums and exhibitions. While Hopper was in Paris, he painted outside partly because of the lack of studio space and in emulation of Impressionism. He was inspired by Claude Monet and Edouard Manet, whose use of light had a lasting influence on Hopper’s art. Influenced by the Ashcan School and taking up residence in Washington Square in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1913, Hopper began to paint the commonplaces of urban life with still, anonymous figures, and compositions that evoke a sense of loneliness.
Hopper’s first sale of a painting, Sailing (1911), was at the International Exhibition of Modern Art, popularly known as the Armory Show (1913). He did not sell another until ten years later. Hopper was more successful with his etchings, which he made from 1915, in both sales and exhibitions. However, it was as an illustrator that he first won fame, when he received top prize for his poster Smash the Hun (1918) in a wartime competition. In January 1920 Hopper held his first one-man exhibition, of 16 paintings at the Whitney Studio Club. He was discouraged by the failure of the exhibition to achieve either sales or critical attention. Hopper was upset because his reputation as a printmaker underlines his lack of success as a painter.
Hopper began printmaking in 1915 at the encouragement of fellow illustrator Martin Lewis, who instructed him on the technical aspects of the medium. Hopper produced approximately 70 prints over a relatively short period of time. His career as an etcher was particularly short-lived but very successful and ended in 1923, abandoning printmaking altogether to focus on painting.
In 1923, while vacationing in Massachusetts, Hopper ran into Josephine “Jo” Nivision, a former classmate of his who was a successful painter. The two were married in 1924 and they often worked together and influenced each other’s styles. Josephine was instrumental in Hopper’s transition from oils to watercolor. These watercolors were greatly influenced by the setting of Massachusetts, as many of them were watercolors of coasts and houses. At the Rehn Gallery, Hopper had a one-man exhibition in which all of his watercolors were sold. The success of the show allowed him to officially quit his illustration work.
When abstract expressionism emerged, the “realists fought back” (Hill 181) including Edward Hopper. Hopper and nine other artists “met regularly to work on a statement which was issued in March 1951” (181) in Reality: A Journal of Artist’s Opinions. In this statement, the artists believe that “art should be directed to the people. We believe that nature and man are the heart and focus of art, and that their interpretation through forms which do not obscure, dehumanize, or mystify, is the very essence of artistic activity” (182). The emergence of abstract expressionism considered the work of these ten artists and more, to be regarded as illustrative, which upset these realist painters.
His second retrospective in 1950 at the Whitney Museum, New York, was regarded by many as the work of an enduring realist maintaining an obsolete style. By the time of his third retrospective in 1964 at the Whitney Museum, critics in a generation of Pop artists and Photorealists addressed him as the forefather of the new avant-garde. Hopper, however, viewed the entire process with much cynicism, knowing that he had consistently created realist paintings that expressed personal meaning.
Hopper passed away on May 15, 1957 at 85 in his Washington Square studio.