Edward Hopper is known today as a typically “American” painter, an artistic genius as singular as the lonely figures that populate its landscapes.
Experts have long pointed to a small group of early Hopper designs, including Old ice pond in Nyack (circa 1897) and Ships (c. 1898) – as proof of his supernatural gift for art. But it turns out that the artist learned to paint like many of his peers: by to copy the work of others. New search for Louis Shadwickdoctoral student at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, indicates that Hopper copied at least four early oil paintings believed to be original compositions from other sources, including art instructional magazines.
Shadwick published his astounding discovery in the October issue of Burlington magazine. As the researcher says New York Times art critic Blake Gopnik, he discovered the younger Hopper’s source material during a lockdown-induced internet investigation this summer.
“It was real detective work,” he adds.
Googling Shadwick came across an 1890 issue of the art exchange, a popular magazine for art lovers in the late 19th century. It included a color print of A winter sunset by the then popular tonalist painter Bruce Crane (1857-1937), along with instructions for creating a copy of the work.
To the pond, the lonely house and a striking band of evening sun, A winter sunset is Hopper’s doppelganger Old ice pond at Nyack, Shadwick achieved what he describes as a “eureka moment”.
As Sarah Cascone reports for artnet News, Old pond at Nyack is currently for sale at an estimated price of around $300,000 to $400,000. Seller, Heather James fine artdid not respond to artnet News‘ request for comment on whether this new information would affect the price of the work.
Shadwick’s later research yielded an unattributed watercolor, lake viewin an 1891 issue of the Artistic exchange. The doctoral student concluded that Hopper must have copied lake view to create the work that would later be known as Rowboat at Rocky Cove (1895); the shafts, the location of the oars in the rowboat, and the poles sticking out of the water are all nearly identical.
Shadwick’s research contradicts two previously accepted ideas about Hopper’s early works, according to the Time: first, that Hopper was entirely self-taught, and second, that his early works were inspired by the local landscapes of his childhood in Nyack, New York.
“[A]In fact, both of those things aren’t true – neither of the oils are by Nyack, and Hopper had an average talent for oil painting, until he went to art school” , Shadwick told the Time. “Even the handling of the paint is quite a far cry from the completed work he was doing even five years later.”
Shadwick also discovered that an 1880s work by Edward Moran, A sailormatched Hopper’s Ships (c. 1898), and that Hopper’s Church and Landscape of the same period bears a strong resemblance to a Victorian painted porcelain plate.
In the Burlington article, Shadwick traces the ownership history of the Hopper works in question, concluding that the artist never intended them for sale or solo exhibition. Local Nyack preacher and personal friend Arthayer R. Sanborn recovered the works from Hopper’s attic after the latter’s death in May 1967. As Shadwick argues, Sanborn appears to have incorrectly confused the contents of the early works with Nyack’s landscape and gave names to what were previously paintings untitled.
Kim Conaty, curator of drawings and prints at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, where she is currently working on a major Hopper exhibition, recounts the Time that Shadwick’s research “directly cuts across the widely held perception of Hopper as an American original”.
She adds that the new document will likely serve “as a pin in a much larger argument about how to look at Hopper.”
Part of what makes the discovery so newsworthy is that Hopper was “notoriously arrogant,” says artist Kristina Burns, who had a studio at the Edward Hopper home, at the Rockland/Westchester Newspaper News“Jim Beckerman. Once he would have claims“The only real influence I’ve ever had is myself.”
Shadwick, who is halfway through his doctoral program, is currently working on a thesis that investigates the notion of “Americanness” in Hopper’s paintings, he says Time.
Burns, for his part, says the discovery “doesn’t change for me that [Hopper] was the first person to synthesize what America looks like.
In a statement posted on the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study CenterJuliana Roth, the organization’s lead storyteller, says Shadwick’s discovery, while fascinating, “does not diminish the importance of these paintings in the conversation about Hopper’s artistic journey.”
She adds: “As with many objects from Edward Hopper’s childhood, we suggest viewing these paintings as artefacts from the development of a young life. The life of a young artist.
Roth concludes: “The myth of artistic genius is just that, a myth. No artist develops in a bubble, without influence, resources or access. … [Y]Young Hopper copied freely and regularly, that is, he learned to see.