We’re kicking off our Summer Art History Blog lineup with an homage to of one of the greatest realist painters, Edward Hopper. Plus, he has a birthday coming up on July 22nd!🎈

We hope you enjoy this introduction to this master painter, his beautiful artwork, and story of how he paved the way for American Realism. Info courtesy of www.edwardhopper.net, www.metmuseum.org, and www.wikiart.org.

Edward Hopper is widely acknowledged as the most important realist painter of 20th-century America. But his vision of reality was a selective one, reflecting his own temperament in the empty cityscapes, landscapes, and isolated figures he chose to paint. His work demonstrates that realism is not merely a literal or photographic copying of what we see, but an interpretive rendering.

Here’s a little bio to round out the history lesson. Hopper was born in Nyack, New York, a town located on the west side of the Hudson River, to a middle-class family that encouraged his artistic abilities. After graduating from high school, he studied briefly at the Correspondence School of Illustrating in New York City (1899–1900), and then he enrolled in classes at the New York School of Art (1900–1906).


In his shift from illustration to the fine arts, he studied with William Merritt Chase, a leading American Impressionist painter responsible for bringing impressionism to the United States, and with Robert Henri, who exhorted his students to paint the everyday conditions of their own world in a realistic manner. Both are my boss, Linda Wehrli’s heroes. Side note: If you haven’t read Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit, I highly recommend it for any creative soul. 🙂 But I digress…

Hopper’s classmates at the school included George Bellows, Guy Pène du Bois, and Rockwell Kent. Now that’s a classroom I’d like to study in! After working as an illustrator for a short time, he made three trips abroad: first to Paris and various locations across Europe (1906–1907), a second trip to Paris (1909), and a short visit to Paris and Spain the following year (1910). Although he had little interest in the vanguard developments of Fauvism or Cubism, he developed an enduring attachment to the work of Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, whose compositional devices and depictions of modern urban life would influence him for years to come.

In 1910, Hopper returned to the United States, never to leave North America again. During the 1910s, he struggled to gain any recognition for the works he had created. During this period, a number of his paintings were distributed through various shows and exhibits in New York, but very little, if any attention, was given to his pieces. Oil painting was a focal point of the work he had done, but a majority of the sales he made during this period, was for works he had created doing etching work and murals.

He began living in Greenwich Village, where he would continue to maintain a studio throughout his career, and he adopted a lifelong pattern of spending the summers in New England. In 1920, at the age of thirty-seven, he received his first one-person exhibition. The Whitney Studio Club, recently founded by the heiress and arts patron Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, showed sixteen of his paintings. Although nothing was sold from the exhibition, it was a symbolic milestone in Hopper’s career.

A few years later, Hopper found his career had taken a turn for the better, and he was doing well financially with the works he had created. He was invited to do a second one-person exhibit at the Frank KM Rehn Gallery in New York, to feature new works, and to create a buzz about the work he had created in recent years. This exhibit received far more attention and a much larger crowd, due to the location where the exhibit was taking place, and also because of the fact that more people were now aware of Hopper’s paintings.

House by the Railroad was a famous painting created by the artist, which was the first work to be acquired for the Museum of Modern Art, which had only recently been opened for general viewing. Strongly defined lighting, clearly defined lines, and cropped viewpoints, were some of the features which this artwork captured; and, this embodied the style in which Hopper would use later on in his career.

In 1923, Hopper married a fellow student and artist, Josephine Nivision who attended the NY Academy where he got his education. Not only did she pose for nearly half of the female figure pieces which he created during his career, she also encouraged and pushed him to engage in different art forms during his career as well, such as watercolors. She kept records of all the pieces he designed, the exhibits he was to be a part of, and all of the sales of the pieces which were made, during these exhibits in which his work was presented. Now that’s a good spouse!

Later in his career, many of his works were displayed in various exhibits, namely at the Whitney Museum in New York. During the 1940s, Hopper found the most commercial success. But, soon after, and even during this time period, he began losing critical favors. This was namely due to the new forms of art, and the fact that abstract pieces were beginning to enter the art world, which took over the work he did, as well as the work of many famous artists prior to him.

Edward Hopper continues to be one of my favorite artists; the themes of the tension between individuals and the conflict between tradition and progress in both rural and urban settings draw me in. Linda Wehrli loves his architectural palettes, noting their similarity to those of artists Wayne Thibaud and Melissa Chandon.

His choices of subject matter – particularly the places he painted – seem to have been somewhat unpredictable, since they were part of his constant battle with the chronic boredom that often stifled his urge to paint. This is what kept Hopper on the move – his search for inspiration, least painfully found in the stimulation of new surroundings. Today, many art historians consider Hopper as the most prominent American impressionist, along with Winslow Homer of 19th century. Now that’s a compliment!

Great art is the outward expression of an inner life of the artist, and this inner-life will result in his personal vision of the world. - Edward Hopper Click To Tweet

Can’t get enough of Hopper’s paintings? Same. Please enjoy the YouTube video below of the 40 Most Famous Edward Hopper Paintings, courtesy of Art Enigma. Music titled Leise flehen meine Lieder by Franz Schubert.

Art History 101 reviews selected artists from periods of history that continue to influence today’s culture and taste. If you enjoyed this story, please feel free to share on your favorite social media. Comments appreciated! If there is an artist you would like us to feature, please comment below. Thank you for your support!

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