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Edward Hopper; Sunlight and Solitude

Updated on August 9, 2010

Edward Hopper was one of the most elegant, complex, and evocative painters of the 20th century. I'll bet you've seen his work or work inspired by him many times without even knowing.

Have you ever seen some of the short animations of city life on Turner Classic Movies? They're usually shown just before the film. TCM didn't reproduce Hopper but rather interpreted and restyled some of his more famous works.

Have you ever seen Blade Runner , Psycho , Days of Heaven , or Pennies from Heaven (the version with Steve Martin)? Then you've seen some of the work inspired by Edward Hopper.

Note: I've just re-watched The Natural with Robert Redford. The entire opening sequence could have come directly from Hopper paintings. His influence permeates the look of the entire film. I can't believe I'm just now seeing this as I have watched this movie several times over the years.

Wonderfully Strange

There was a wonderfully strange commercial for blue jeans that was on the late 70s or early 80s. It was inspired by the movie Giant and the work of James Dean. A woman sits in a old convertible in front of a very strange looking house. The house was directly inspired by Edward Hopper's House by the Railroad as was the house in Psycho.

He painted America in a unique realistic style that also spoke deeply to the imagination. His work rarely told a story but more often gave us glimpses of life that seemed familiar but forced the viewer to fill in the details about the scene and the people.

Most of his work was done in the first half of the 1900s. He worked in oils and watercolors. He did etchings and produced prints. He was fascinated by light, particularly sunlight. Very few of his paintings include lousy weather.

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Real Women

It’s been often said that Edward Hopper's pictures illustrate loneliness and isolation in the 20th century. I am constantly floored by that description of his work. To me they are quiet and peaceful. I could step into most of them and sit smiling in the sun. I am solitary by nature and find the draw of those quiet landscapes irresistible.

He did include people in many of his works but they are often alone or distant from the other occupants of the painting. I love the fact that his women look like real women and not idealized plastic people. His wife, Jo, modeled for most of the females in his paintings and sketches. Probably best as many of his women are naked.

As a person who prefers their own company, I cannot deny that I see myself in many of his paintings of women alone. It is a welcome recognition that we have lives that are quite separate from men and the outside world. Although some could be described as melancholy, I tend to see women who have taken off the masks they use in the company of others.


I cannot resist Morgensonne from 1952. To sit quietly on your bed in the sun. Lovely.

I must say that most of the people I've talked to have an interpretation that is quite different. Take a look at his work and I mean really look and see what you think.


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    • Georzetta profile image

      Georzetta Ratcliffe 7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Indeed. The blank walls make me feel that the story is unfinished. I add my own details. I decide what's happening. I think he expects the observer to do some work.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Yes-- it is something about stepping out and falling 20 ft before hitting the water ... but who knows, maybe there's a stairway to the beach. I think his blank unadorned walls do something to create a feeling of emptiness, but they are one of the most striking features of many of his works.

    • Georzetta profile image

      Georzetta Ratcliffe 7 years ago from Pennsylvania

      You're thinking of "Rooms by the Sea." It's my favorite. I do have trouble reconciling the distance between the door and the ocean. Something there is slightly off.

      However, I love the light in the room, the details of the door and furniture, and the idea of opening a door to the ocean.

      I think you describe it beautifully-"superreal, on the edge of surrealism."

      Thanks for the comment.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Introspection and contemplation can be misinterpreted as lonely sadness. I like my personal alone time and I find Hopper's work to be superreal, on the edge of surrealism.

      I will say that I have always found the one of the open door with the sea outside always bothers me a little.

      Thanks for this new glimpse into his world.