The Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition “Edward Hopper’s New York” offers an unprecedented examination of Hopper’s life and work in the city that he called home for nearly six decades
Bringing together many of Edward Hopper’s most iconic city works to showcase a complex and compelling portrait of a rapidly developing New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art’s exhibition “Edward Hopper’s New York” offers an unprecedented examination of Hopper’s life and work in the city that he called home for nearly six decades. The exhibition charts the artist’s enduring fascination with the city through more than 200 paintings, watercolors, prints, and drawings from the Whitney’s preeminent collection of Hopper’s work, loans from public and private collections, and archival materials including printed ephemera, correspondence, photographs, and notebooks. From early sketches to paintings from late in his career, “Edward Hopper’s New York” reveals a vision of the metropolis that is as much a manifestation of Hopper himself as it is a record of a changing city, whose perpetual and sometimes tense reinvention feels particularly relevant today.
The exhibition is organized by Kim Conaty and Melina Lang and features instantly recognizable paintings featured in the exhibition, such as “Automat,” “Early Sunday Morning,” “Room in New York,” “New York Movie,” and “Morning Sun” alongside lesser-known yet critically important compositions including a series of watercolors of New York rooftops and bridges and the painting “City Roofs.”
In a press statement, Whitney Museum Director Adam D. Weinberg shares, “Edward Hopper’s New York offers a remarkable opportunity to celebrate an ever-changing yet timeless city through the work of an American icon. As New York bounces back after two challenging years of global pandemic, this exhibition reconsiders the life and work of Edward Hopper, serves as a barometer of our times, and introduces a new generation of audiences to Hopper’s work by a new generation of scholars. This exhibition offers fresh perspectives and radical new insights.”
Edward Hopper’s career and work have been a touchstone for the Whitney since before the Museum was founded. In 1920, at the age of thirty-seven, Hopper had his first solo exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club. He was included in a number of exhibitions there before it closed in 1928 to make way for the Whitney Museum of American Art, which opened in 1931. Hopper’s work appeared in the inaugural Whitney Biennial in 1932 and in twenty-nine subsequent Biennials and Annuals through 1965, as well as several group exhibitions. The Whitney was among the first museums to acquire a Hopper painting for its collection. In 1968, Hopper’s widow, the artist Josephine Nivison Hopper bequeathed the entirety of his artistic holdings–2,500 paintings, watercolors, prints, and drawings–and many of her own works from their Washington Square studio residence. Today the Whitney’s collection holds over 3,100 works by Hopper, more than any other museum in the world.
Organized in thematic chapters spanning Hopper’s entire career, the exhibition comprises eight sections including four expansive gallery spaces showcasing many of Hopper’s most celebrated paintings and four pavilions that focus on key topics through dynamic groupings of paintings, works on paper, and archival materials, many of which have rarely been exhibited to the public.
“Edward Hopper’s New York” begins with early sketches and paintings from the artist’s first years traveling into and around the city, from 1899 to 1915, as he grew from a commuting art student to a Greenwich Village resident.
Although Hopper aspired to recognition as a painter, his first successes came in print through his illustrations and etchings, an important history featured in a section of the exhibition titled “The City in Print.” His artworks for illustrations and published commissions for magazines and advertisements often featured urban motifs inspired by New York—theaters, restaurants, offices, and city dwellers—that would become foundational to his art. During this early period, he also consolidated many of his impressions of New York through etchings like “East Side Interior” and “The Open Window,” which preview the dramatic use of light that has become synonymous with Hopper’s work.
“Edward Hopper’s New York” presents, for the first time together, the artist's panoramic cityscapes, installed as a group in a section of the exhibition titled “The Horizontal City.” Early “Sunday Morning,” “Manhattan Bridge Loop,” “Blackwell’s Island,” “Apartment Houses,” “East River,” and “Macomb’s Dam Bridge,” five paintings made between 1928 and 1935, all share nearly identical dimensions and format. Seen together, they offer invaluable insight into Hopper’s contrarian vision of the growing city at a time when New York was increasingly defined by its relentless skyward development.
Throughout his career, Hopper explored the city with sketchbook in hand, recording his observations through drawing, a practice highlighted in this section of the exhibition. A large selection of his sketches and preparatory studies on view in “Sketching New York” chart Hopper’s favored locations across the city, many of which the artist returned to again and again in order to capture different impressions that he could later explore on canvas.
The final section of “Edward Hopper’s New York” presents a group of ambitious late paintings, characterized by radically simplified geometry and uncanny, dreamlike settings, revealing how New York increasingly served as a stage set or backdrop for Hopper’s evocative distillations of urban experience. In works such as “Morning in a City,” “Sunlight on Brownstones,” and “Sunlight in a Cafeteria,” Hopper created compositions that depart from specific sites while still tapping into urban sensations, reflecting his desire, as noted in his personal journal “Notes on Painting”, to create a “realistic art from which fantasy can grow.”