Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is widely recognized as one of the most important artists of the 20th century. In Europe, he is best known for his oil paintings of city life scenes dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, some of which have become very popular images. So far, less attention has been paid to its landscapes. Surprisingly, no exhibition to date has comprehensively dealt with Hopper’s approach to the American landscape. From January 26 to May 17, 2020, the Beyeler Foundation in Basel presents an extensive exhibition of iconic landscape oil paintings as well as a selection of watercolors and drawings. It will also be the first time that Hopper’s works will be presented in an exhibition in German-speaking Switzerland.
Hopper was born in Nyack, New York. After training as an illustrator, he studied painting at the New York School of Art until 1906. Alongside German, French and Russian literature, the young artist found essential references in painters such as Diego Velázquez, Francisco de Goya, Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. Although Hopper had long worked primarily as an illustrator, his fame rests primarily on his oil paintings, which testify to his deep interest in color and his virtuosity in depicting light and shadow. Additionally, based on his observations, Hopper was able to establish a personal aesthetic that influenced non
only painting but also popular culture, photography and cinema.
The idea for this exhibition was born when Cape Ann Granite, a landscape painted by Edward Hopper in 1928, joined the Fondation Beyeler collection on permanent loan [it sold at Christie’s in 2018]. For several decades, the work belonged to the famous Rockefeller Collection, and it dates from a time when Hopper received increasing attention from critics, curators and the public. In 1929, he was invited to participate in the second exhibition of the Museum of Modern Art, Paintings of Nineteen Americans Living.
In the tradition of art history, “landscape” means an image of nature as opposed to an actual constantly changing “nature”, which, as such, cannot be fixed as such. ‘picture. Landscape painting always shows the impact of man on nature, and Hopper’s paintings reflect this in a subtle and multifaceted way. He thus established a decidedly modern approach to a secular genre of art history. Contrary to academic tradition, Hopper’s landscapes seem limitless; in the mind, they are infinite and always seem to show only a small part of a huge whole.
Hopper’s American landscapes are geometrically clear compositions. Their main elements are houses, symbolizing the human settlement. The railways structure the images horizontally and represent the effort of man to conquer vast expanses of space. Vast skies as well as specific lighting moods – the bright light of the midday sun and the glow of twilight – illustrate the vastness and constant transformation of nature itself in a truly static landscape painting. A lighthouse can thus become a reference in the immensity of the sea and the coastline.
Hopper’s landscape paintings appear to deal with something invisible, occurring outside of the image, as exemplified by Cape Cod Morning (1950): a woman looks through a bay window, her face bathed in sunlight, staring at something that the viewer cannot see because it is located beyond the pictorial space. Hopper’s visible landscapes always have an invisible and subjective counterpart that appears within the viewer. As with all of his paintings, Hopper’s landscapes are defined by melancholy and loneliness. They often convey a sense of strangeness and dread. Hopper also sometimes shows
brutal intrusion of man into nature by confronting natural and urban landscapes. Hopper played a major role in establishing the notion of a melancholy America, also defined by the dark sides of progress – a vast and limitless space, which has become immensely popular, especially through its development in films such as Alfred. Hitchcock from north to north-west (1959), Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas (1984) or that of Kevin Costner Dance with the wolves (1990).
As a highlight, filmmaker Wim Wenders produced a 3D short film titled Two or Three Things I Know about Hopper, screened in a dedicated room. The film is Wenders’ personal homage to Edward Hopper, who left a lasting mark on him and influenced his cinematographic work. He has traveled across the United States in search of “Hopper’s Spirit”, condensing the resulting images into a film that will premiere at the opening of the exhibition. Poetically and movingly, the film shows how much cinema owes to Edward Hopper and how much Hopper in turn was influenced by cinema.
The exhibition Edward hopper includes 65 works dating from 1909 to 1965. It is organized by the Fondation Beyeler in cooperation with the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, the main global repository of Hopper’s work.