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Artists Who Started Later in Life: Edward Hopper

Updated on July 21, 2019
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Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

self-portrait | Source
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Morning SunSunlight on BrownstonesSummertime
Morning Sun
Morning Sun | Source
Sunlight on Brownstones
Sunlight on Brownstones | Source
Summertime | Source

Artists Are Memory Keepers For The World

Artists are memory makers… or rather, memory keepers. What we do is immortalize a time, an era, a community, a person in a portrait. It is why we are still fascinated with a little known lady captured in the Mona Lisa. It is why an era that lasted a little more than 11 years and dancers who only danced 2 years at best, are immortalized forever in the posters of the Moulin Rouge by the artist Toulouse-Lautrec. It is why the era of this artist will be forever remembered. This is a story of an artist whose style wasn’t at first appreciated or recognized for what it was. It took time but finally, he achieved the recognition he deserved: Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

I am an artist. I appreciate the stories and struggles that other artists have had to endure to make the mark in history that some of them have made. Many times it is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Other times it is a matter of patience for when the public is ready for your style. I know that it seems like artists who are not very talented or who show no more talent than some others, achieve fame, however, it is a lot of chance, happenstance and who you know more than talent most of the time.

The sad fact is that artists feel deeply, all the highs and all the lows of life. Sometimes I envy people like my mother, who have a very “even keel.” People like that seldom get mad or upset (although when they do, look out). However, they also don’t get overly jovial or jocular. Every day is a straight line from sunrise to sunset.

Gratefully, I don’t live like that. I am one of the artists. When I am happy, I am a very ecstatic, giggling fool. And when I’m sad, I am in the dismal dumps. No halfway for me. I feel it all and it often shows up in my work.

Second Story Sunlight
Second Story Sunlight | Source

What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.

— Edward Hopper

Success Later Than Most

Edward Hopper sold his first painting at the age of 31, a slower start than other artists, and that was followed by years of constant struggle. It wasn’t until he entered his 40s that his career turned around and he began receiving recognition for his unique painting style.

The Back of the Freight Station, watercolor.
The Back of the Freight Station, watercolor. | Source

Painter of Iconic America

A prominent American realist and printmaker, Edward Hopper became well known for his oil paintings of urban and rural scenes of modern American life. I like to think of him as an early Norman Rockwell, and it could be that Rockwell was inspired by Hopper, as many artists have been. He loved nautical scenes as well as landscapes and nature scenes, but I think some of his most famous, iconic works of typical American life in the early years of the 20th century.

Automata, 1923
Automata, 1923 | Source

In general it can be said that a nation's art is greatest when it most reflects the character of its people.

— Edward Hopper

Raised Conservative

Hopper was born in New York, to a middle-class family of mostly Dutch ancestry, in a strict Baptist home. Today his boyhood home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a nonprofit community cultural center featuring many things such as lectures, performances, and special events. Hopper’s parents encouraged his art and supplied him with materials and instruction. He began his formal art studies with a correspondence course in 1899 and later transferred to the New York School of Art and Design. Sketching from live nude models was somewhat of a challenge and a shock to the conservatively raised young man.

Gas, 1940
Gas, 1940 | Source
Early Sunday Morning
Early Sunday Morning | Source

Influential Instructor, Robert Henri

The instructor that most influenced him, Robert Henri, encouraged his students to “make a stir in the world,” and that it “isn’t the subject that counts but what you feel about it.” These are things you can see in Hopper’s later paintings. He eventually landed a job doing part-time advertising and cover designs for trade magazines, but he detested illustration. Many artists feel that illustration is prostituting your talents for the sake of income. Unlike many of his contemporaries who were doing abstract cubist experiments, Hopper loved realist art. He struggled relentlessly defining his style and returning to illustration to pay the bills. Like most of us, to freelance, he had to knock on doors and solicit for projects at magazine and agency offices.

No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination.

— Edward Hopper
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Lee ShoreThe Long Leg
Lee Shore
Lee Shore | Source
The Long Leg
The Long Leg | Source

One Sale... Then Nothing

In 1913, he sold his first painting called Sailing, which was a painting he painted over an earlier self-portrait. To make new art, we often have to sacrifice the old. Like most of us, he hoped that his first sale would lead to more but that was not to be for some time. In 1914, he received a commission to make movie posters and handle publicity for a movie company. He loved the cinema and for a time this was a good fit. He spent his spare time working on his etchings; scenes of New York and Paris life.

Hotel by a Railroad
Hotel by a Railroad | Source
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Hotel LobbySouth Carolina MorningSummer Evening
Hotel Lobby
Hotel Lobby | Source
South Carolina Morning
South Carolina Morning | Source
Summer Evening
Summer Evening | Source

Everything Changed

It was 1923 when he again ran into a former student of Robert Henri, Josephine Nivison. They were so opposite it was a match made in heaven. She was short, open, gregarious, sociable, and liberal, while he was tall (6 feet 5), secretive, shy, quiet, introspective and conservative. They were married the next year. Things changed for him almost immediately. He sold all his paintings in a one-man show and finally was able to put illustration behind him. The critics loved and raved about his work saying he did beautiful things to the ugliest subjects. He was 41. He remained bitter about the struggles and his early failures but was now able financially to live simply and stable. He continued to create art in his distinctive style but refused appearances and awards.

House at Dusk
House at Dusk | Source

Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.

— Edward Hopper

He Bought A Car

In 1927 he sold one painting (Two on the Aisle) for a personal record of $1,500, enough money to purchase an automobile for him to make his customary field trips to the countryside of New England to paint. He faired better than most artists during the Great Depression, partly because of his simple lifestyle and partly because his paintings were still selling in museums and such.

Two on the Aisle
Two on the Aisle | Source

Do you think art should not be made into a parody of itself?

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He died in 1967, and like many loving couples, his wife died 9 months later. She willed his significant collection to the Whitney Museum of American Art. One of the fun things about iconic artists and art is that inevitably someone will take it and create a parody with it. This has been seen over and over again with paintings like the Mona Lisa and American Gothic. But with Hopper, it is his most famous painting called Nighthawks that has been made into one of my favorite parodies. The Star Wars Nighthawks. Some people may think this is disrespectful but I don’t think so. When it is done with humor and good taste, it makes the original even more loved and famous than before.

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Nighthawks, 1942Star Wars Nighthawks
Nighthawks, 1942
Nighthawks, 1942 | Source
Star Wars Nighthawks
Star Wars Nighthawks


I have seen a few of his paintings in museums over my life. Photos in books simply do not do them justice. They glow with a luminance that you can’t really see at first and are so realistic they first appear to be photographs. I would suggest you go see his work in person if you possibly can. You will not be the same afterward.

Rooms for Tourists
Rooms for Tourists | Source

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