A major retrospective of Edward Hopper opening in Paris overturns some of the cliches about the 20th-century artist, uncovering the French and broader European influences that lie behind his label as the consummate “American” scene-painter.
The show, which runs from Oct. 10 to Jan. 28 at the Grand Palais, is devoted in part to familiar works such as 1942’s Nighthawks or 1940’s Gas, scenes of urban and rural loneliness which show a dystopian view of mid-20th century America.
But the first half focuses on his formative years and his three visits to the French capital — 1906, 1909 and 1910 — when he painted scenes of Paris and drew inspiration from artists such as Edgar Degas, Albert Marquet and Walter Sickert, or even Dutch painter Rembrandt.
Juxtaposing Hopper’s work with paintings such as A Cotton Office in New Orleans by Degas in 1873, the exhibition highlights themes such as the world of business that would later be woven into his American vision.
Meanwhile, little-known works such as his 1909 Louvre in a Thunderstorm, or Stairway at 48, Rue de Lille, Paris from 1906, show a new cosmopolitan side to the artist, and early signs of his obsession with architecture and small urban detail.
“There’s a big gap in the apparent knowledge of what Hopper’s painting is, the one which has been reproduced everywhere in posters, on the covers of novels and so on,” said exhibition curator Didier Ottinger.
“In fact his work is much richer, much more complex than that,” he said.
The exhibition, the first major retrospective of Hopper to be held in Paris, brings together some 160 works in chronological order, showing the continuity of theme and the way he explored his favorite subjects.
It also includes his etchings from 1915 and magazine covers and posters from the early 1920s, when Hopper was forced to earn his living as a commercial illustrator.
Born in 1882 in Nyack, New York, he studied art from an early age, attending the New York School of Illustrating in 1899 and later the New York School of Art, before coming under the influence of American artist Robert Henri.
It was only in 1924, however, that he achieved recognition and commercial success, following an exhibition of his watercolors of neo-Victorian houses in the Brooklyn Museum.
One of the other conventional views of Hopper challenged by the retrospective is the assumption that his work only offers a melancholy, isolated vision of American life.
Viewed together, his paintings, such as “Morning Sun,” 1952, often show figures near a window, illuminated by a shaft of brilliant light, which for Ottinger reflects an awakening and resistance to alienation.
“This, I think, is the real subject of Hopper’s painting. You see people who are awakened by the sun and taken out of their condition, which is very poor and very ordinary. This is the hope that is expressed in Hopper’s painting,” he said.