At last, he is here. His name has been on the “tout Paris’ ” lips for the last few months and he is the greatest event of the cultural rentrée in France. Paris and its Grand Palais are celebrating American realism by hosting the very first, long-awaited retrospective in France of the Master’s work. Once again the Grand Palais is treating us to a five-star feast. The myth of a tranquil, middle-class America has taken over theCity of Light. Curator Didier Ottinger invites the public to explore the intricacy of Edward Hopper’s career. It took Mr Ottinger a considerable amount of work and determination to convince American museums to loan the paintings to the Grand Palais for this 4-month exhibition (it closes on 28th January).
Along with the exhibited pieces of art came Hopper’s beautiful melancholy, nostalgia and solitude. This retrospective is not only about the grand Nighthawks and Chop Suey, it also sheds light on Hopper’s work as an illustrator (which he despised) for American magazines such as Wells Fargo Messenger, Hotel Management or Country Gentlemen, on his placid watercolours and mysterious etchings – they are absolutely enchanting.
The retrospective is shaped around the two major parts of Hopper’s life and career. The first (years 1900 to 1924) focuses on the artist’s debut years as a student at the New York School of Art, his influences (his teacher Robert Henri, artists Marquet, Degas and Sickert, photographers Eugène Atget and Matthew Brady) and his experiences in Paris. Hopper developed a real fascination for French photographer Eugène Atget and American photojournalist Matthew Brady. Their work is shown and compared throughout out a gripping slideshow in which old pictures of Parisian streets and buildings alternate with others of the American Civil War, thus illustrating how Hopper’s interest shifted from Haussmannian architecture to small town American architecture. The peculiar Soir Bleu, which he painted in 1914, was a farewell to Paris.
As you move on, the rooms get bigger and lighter, as if they were slowly building up the public’s excitement by clearingspace for the masterpieces to come. Hopper’s more mature, renowned work is displayed throughout the second part of theretrospective (years 1924 to 1966), opening with the spooky, grandiose House by the Railroad (1925) which has inspired many a film and namely Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. The rooms are dominated by scenes from everyday life in America, at dawn or dusk, in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. The calmness and tranquillity are oppressing, just like the moving loneliness of his subjects. Hopper bought his first car in 1927 and drove out on an exploratory road trip. He went all over America to observe and paint life in his country and transformed his car into a genuine mobile studio. The exhibition closes with his ultimate painting: “Two Comedians” (1966). The subjects taking a bow represent the artist himself and his wife Josephine, who was his only muse and model.
He had always wanted to become an architect and this aspect prevails in his work through his famous geometric figures, horizontal and vertical lines. Hopper did not paint landscapes; he painted rooms, houses, roofs, windows, gardens, offices, and most of all, light. He incited his public to uncover its voyeurism, telling viewers to come closer and peep into the intimacy of apartments and offices. Victor Hugo once said “La mélancolie, c’est le bonheur d’ être triste” (melancholy is the pleasure of being sad); these words are probably what best define Hopper’s oeuvre.
Words - Julia Collier