The contention that a water color painter seldom carries the same degree of personality and quality characteristic of his water colors into the medium of oil painting is not substantiated in the case of Edward Hopper. Hopper is now showing ten canvases and half a dozen water colors at the Rehn Galleries, and it is the first time that their juxtaposition with the oils takes first place. Not but what the water colors are just as fresh and amazingly observed, as has always been the case, but the oils have in addition to this quality that of greater permanency and deliberation inherent in the medium. They are, in other words, fully realized. Hopper has passed through the period of experimentation as regards this medium.
But enough about the medium. It is, after all, what the artist says with it that counts. The subject matter in the present collection concerns itself with typical Hopper subjectswhat has come to be called the American scene as interpreted through its architecture. Not such architecture as that to which the citizen points with pride, not the show pieces nor the looming modernism of the skyscraper, but the drab utilitarianism or pretentious elegance which has characterized American architecture until its most recent chapter. The era of civic improvement and setback skyscrapers has not, however, altered to any considerable extent the mongrel aspect of American urban and suburban civilization. The rows of pretentious or drab apartment houses still stand; the brownstone mansions have not all given way to steel and cement structures, and in the country districts the small frame houses or the Mansard roof villas are as typical and ubiquitous as the near Colonial or English cottage style preferred by the country house specialists.
Hopper was the first American painter to see such types as subjects for the artist. What he recently said about Burchfield in an article which appeared in July Arts is also applicable to himself. Hopper incidentally is a keen critic, and whatever he has to say on art is worth remembering. The passages which seem especially applicable read as follows: "He is one of those who in each generation naturally and honestly liberate their subjects from the taboos of their time. As is usually the case when one meets such intimate interpretations of the common phases of existence and of nature's more commonly encountered moods, one wonders why it had not been done before, since it reveals what so many had had at heart and had always seen but considered unworthy to be dignified by art."
The subjects which Hopper paints form the background of the majority of adult Americans. Ugly, sordid, commonplace, they are part of our consciousness and we are bound to them with the strong ties of early impressions. The present collection divides itself equally between Hopper's version of the American scene as it presents itself to him, in the country and in the city. Gloucester streets, portraits of frame houses, another stunning version of the Cape Ann Lighthouse silhouetted against a deep blue sky, and, for the first time, a straight landscape without a figure or a house. The urban group is quite as typical in this waya lighted drug store window or a lonely street corner, a surreptitious glimpse into a lighted room where the charming inmate in dishabille is apparently quite unconscious that she has forgotten to pull down the shade; a row of red brick tenements, Manhattan Loop, Blackwell's Island (who but Hopper would have seen this subject in terms of a picture?) and a freight car siding.
All are given his stark, uncompromising statement of reality but are lifted from the photographic representation by their defined emotional quality and the curious personal arrangement of the form. No one else has arranged his compositions in quite this same way, disarming in their apparent fidelity to fact, so much art in their elimination and their approach. The sweeping horizontal line, which has become almost a Hopper hallmark, is made effective use of the Blackwells Island canvas. The river sweeps across the foreground then becomes a slender strip of gray and above this the forbidding [undeciphered] of the prisons. The bridge is just glimpsed in the extreme right of the canvas.
Also included in the exhibition are some of his earlier canvases. Among them a portrait of a Mansard roofed, detached mansion, his first oil, and the well known Two on the Aisle, painted two years ago. Hopper's advance in the medium is obviously manifested.
"Hopper Interprets America. Well-Known Painter Shows Recent Versions of American Scenes at the Rehn Galleries," Brooklyn Daily Eagle (20 January 1929), p. E-7.