Sun on Prospect Street (Gloucester, Mass), Edward Hopper, 1934

February 18th, 2012  |  Published in Digest, February 2012  |  1 Comment

Sun on Prospect Street (Gloucester, Mass), Edward Hopper, 1934

When asked to discuss a significant piece of art that is part of the Cincinnati Art Museum’s permanent collection, the piece that immediately came to mind was a medium-sized painting by Edward Hopper.  I first came into contact with the piece about a decade ago.  I was still in college and had to create a direct master copy of one of the art museum’s pieces, meaning that I had to paint my master copy while standing in front of the painting.   I remember walking through the museum, searching through hundreds of images, when I came across the Hopper.  I developed an immediate kinship with Hopper.  I am not sure if we shared similar art-making sensibilities or if my time spent studying in front of the piece ingrained his sense of space into my future painting practices.

The piece is very familiar yet foreign at the same time.  When looking at the piece, you may find yourself thinking that this is not my beautiful house, my large automobile, or my beautiful wife (which I assume is dwelling in the inner corridors of the homes being depicted) . Yet the painting pulls you in and makes you stay with it. In its bold use of economy, it opens up the possibility for a greater narrative. Hopper removed all of the superfluous elements of the scene, and shared just enough with the viewer to create a magnificent sense of a common shared experience.

In this time of isolation, I think almost everyone likely has been on an empty street filled only with a dramatic sense of light.   In addition to Hopper’s masterful application of paint, part of what makes this painting so successful is his ability to lead the viewer to think about the groupings of people within each house, and actually relate to them.   Your mind moves quickly from the beauty of the scene to the unseen private lives of others.  You question if they perform similar acts to your own:  Is someone in there preparing dinner? Where are they eating it? Are they enjoying watching the television or reading a book?   The possibilities of the interior actions of the other are endless.  This is where Hopper’s painting takes us, and leaves us to contemplate ourselves through the other.  Hopper was one of the first American painters to understand and visualize this borderline between public and private space, which became one of the dominant psychological tropes of Modernism.

Saturday Afternoon, Robert Anderson, 2011, Oil on Board, 27" x 36"

The greatest achievement of this work is how Hopper – through painting what he sees, less the unnecessary details that he wisely chose to omit – simultaneously describes the unseen, creating an imaginative world in the viewer’s mind.


  1. Philip Koch says:

    February 19th, 2012at 12:24 pm(#)

    Robert. thanks for writing about this Hopper and telling the story of your experience picking it to make your master copy (a painting assignment dear to my heart). You hit a nail on the head when you say ” The piece is very familiar yet foreign at the same time.” Isn’t that exactly what a good artist does- shows us what we’ve overlooked in what we assume we know well.

    It’s funny, this has never been one of my favorite Hopper paintings, yet coming across it in your blog this morning I slowed down and fell into the unpredictable geometry at the left side of the street- it almost reminds me of a abstract children’s playground jungle gym. Those sort of richly unexpected combinations of shapes make one want to muse along the lines you suggest- wondering about the lives of those who dwell in these houses.

    Thanks for writing this.