Art: The Silent Witness

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Edward Hopper's works, being of the present, are the most immediately "recognizable" of all. Hopper feels closer to Eakins than to any of his other predecessors, though he considers that "Eakins had much more humanity than I do." It is true that the people in Hopper's canvases are less individualized than the buildings, as if the artist had wished to avoid in truding on their lives. Hopper's own unalterable reserve makes him as surprising, in an age of clattering egos, as a tree growing in the middle of Main Street. He is profoundly "inner-directed," or, as he puts it, "a self-seeker."

In Search of Self. Hopper's search for self has been long, arduous and undeviating. It began in the town of Nyack, N.Y.. up the Hudson River from Manhattan. There he was a bookish, gawky, well-bred boy—the son of a scholarly and unbusinesslike merchant—who built his own sailboat at the age of twelve. Five years later he enrolled in Robert Henri's art school on Manhattan's 57th Street. Henri was the presiding genius of an American art movement sneeringly dubbed the "Ash Can School." Instead of the vapid, idealistic studio pictures then in favor, the Ash Can painters showed what they had seen on the streets, in bold style. Hopper found their approach to subject matter agreeable, though their dark, flamboyant technique was not for him. "The only real influence I've ever had," he says, "was myself."

At one point, he recalls, the pupils split into two camps, "The Simple Life Party" and "The Strenuous Life Party." Hopper belonged to the first, Rockwell Kent and George Bellows to the second. While Hopper strove soberly to find himself, Kent and Bellows were boisterously exhibiting themselves. They were headed for quick fame, he for painful obscurity—and the really simple life.

As all good students of art were expected to, Hopper went to Paris in 1906 for a year of study. But he bore little resemblance to the popular notion of an American art student in France. He kept to himself, sketching and painting along the Seine and in the parks. "I had heard of and knew about Gertrude Stein," he recalls, "but I wasn't important enough for her to know me. About the only important person I knew was Jo Davidson, and he was willing to look at me only because I knew the girl he was going to marry—met her on the boat going over."

It was the light and not the life of

Paris that interested Student Hopper. "The light was different from anything I had known," he says. "The shadows were luminous—more reflected light. Even under the bridges there was a certain luminosity. Maybe it's because the clouds are lower, just over the housetops. I've always been interested in light—more than most contemporary painters, and certainly more than the abstractionists."

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