The Edward Hopper Exhibit at the NGA

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National Gallery of Art East Building

I've long been a fan of "Nighthawks," the famous painting by American artist Edward Hopper. I'd once seen it at the Art Institute of Chicago, along with a sampling of Hopper's other work. (A hommage to that iconic painting of an urban coffee shop is on my Starbucks coffee mug.) When the National Gallery of Art in Washington announced that it would mount a comprehensive Hopper exhibt, I knew I had to see it. On Tuesday, I finally set aside some time to do so.

The exhibit is installed in the separate East Building of the National Gallery. An appropriate venue, as the East Building houses works by modern and contemporary artists.

NGA East Building atrium and Alexander Calder mobile
 (I always enjoy seeing works by Roy Lichtensten and works by Photorealists on display here.) Designed by I.M. Pei and opened in 1978, the East Building is itself a work of art. A large central atrum and irregularly shaped space invites visitors to explore all of the floors and galeries.

The exibit covered Hopper's entire career from prints of the early 1900s to his last work in 1964. His themes were surprisingly consistent. (A 1927 painting of a drugstore is a precursor to Nighhawks of 1942.)  He was concerned with examining everyday settings, primarily urban, but also in Maine and on Cape Cod. His figures--usually women--convey a sense of isolation. Even in groups, the figures inhabit their own own worlds and are consumed in their own thoughts and reveries.

Edward Hopper exhibit banner
I was taken with Hopper's treatment of light. He seemed to work with light much like a photographer. Bright light. Gradations of shade. Dark shadows. An interplay of natural light and artificial light in nighttime scenes.  A ray of exterior light penetrating a dark room is a frequent theme. If fact, it seemed to me that in many ways he captured scenes as a photographer would. But as the exhibit leaflet points out, he "offers a brand of realism not bound by reality." Many of his works have entered popular culture as inspirations for film settings. (The house in Hitchock's Psycho is based on one of Hopper's Maine paintings.) Hopper's last painting is simply of an empty room illuminated by light from  a window. Perhaps the viewer is meant to be the solitary inhabitant.

ted332 says:
Interesting!
Posted on: Jan 20, 2008
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Edward Hopper exhibit banner
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National Gallery of Art
Tha National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, is the most comprehensive art museum in the Nation's Capital. The National Gallery is located along the… read entire review
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