Lot 74
  • 74

Edward Hopper 1882-1967

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Description

  • Edward Hopper
  • Squam Light
  • signed E. Hopper, l.r.
  • oil on canvas

Provenance

Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Perry R. Pease
Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 3, 1997, lot 160, illustrated in color)
Acquired by the present owner at the above sale

Exhibited

New York, MacDowell Club, January 1913
New York, Whitney Studio Club, January 1920
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Junior Council Exhibition: Young Collectors, no. 20
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; London, Hayward Gallery, Arts Council of Great Britain; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Düsseldorf, Städtische Kunsthalle; Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist, September 1980-February 1982, pl. 128, pp. 28, 35, illustrated in color p. 130
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Edward Hopper: Light Years, October-November 1988, no. 1, p. 19, illustrated p. 14
Marseille, France, Musée Cantini, Edward Hopper, June-September 1989, p. 16, illustrated p. 17
Portland, Maine, Portland Museum of Art, The Allure of the Maine Coast: Robert Henri and His Circle. 1903-1918, June-October 1995

Literature

Gail Levin, Hopper, New York, 1984, p. 26, illustrated in color p. 12, also illustrated in color on the back cover
Carl Little, Edward Hopper’s New England, San Francisco, California, 1993, p. IX, illustrated
Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, vol. I, p. 54; vol. III, no. 0-182, p. 112, illustrated in color

Catalogue Note

Dr. Gail Levin writes, "The New England seashore played a significant role throughout Edward Hopper’s career. From his formative years until near the end of his life, he spent his summers painting there, mostly in Maine and Massachusetts, where he and his wife built a home on Cape Cod in 1934. The American vernacular architecture he found there held his attention much more than the empty landscape. And no theme became so identified with him as the lighthouse. His fascination with these landmark structures grew out of his love of navigation, which had begun during his boyhood in Nyack, New York--a Hudson River town. His family lived in a house located just up the hill from the wide river, where he could see all kinds of boats. The Hudson exerted an almost magnetic pull on the young Hopper, who for a time imagined becoming a naval architect. As a teenager, he built his own sailboat, an experience that may have contributed to his decision to pursue painting instead.

In 1912, Hopper painted Squam Light, a lighthouse located in a village known as Annisquam, on Cape Ann, just north of Gloucester, Massachusetts. At this time, just two years after the last of his three trips to Europe, he first seized upon the lighthouse as a major theme - one that would later make him famous. He became fascinated with the isolation of both the structures and their keepers--a job that obliged a man to live in the lighthouse, away from noisy neighbors or a nagging wife.

Squam Light prefigures the images of  lighthouses that Hopper would produce fifteen years later at Two Lights on Cape Elizabeth, Maine, just south along the coast from Portland. In 1927, empowered by the mobility he got by purchasing his first automobile, he painted Lighthouse Hill, now in the Dallas Museum of Art (figure 1), another view of it seen behind the coast guard captain’s house,  and several watercolors of the same buildings. Two years later, in 1929, he painted another oil of The Lighthouse at Two Lights (figure 2), probably at the urging of some friends, who immediately purchased the canvas, now in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like Squam Light, Hopper painted all of these lighthouses on location, working outdoors.

Even before Hopper and his wife arrived at Two Lights that summer, they stopped at Pemaquid Point, where he painted a watercolor of the local lighthouse, known as Pemaquid Light. Hopper’s images of lighthouses had such a following that at least one collector tried to obtain one directly from Hopper during the 1950s, only to have his wife Jo write to him and say: 'My husband, a man of few words, doesn’t explain that when one has said a great deal on a subject that interests one, there can come a time when one feels one has said all one can.'

The lighthouse (a brick tower) that Hopper depicted in Squam Light was built by the government in 1897 to keep mariners from going aground on the Squam Bar. The adjacent house that appears in his painting dates from 1801. Hopper’s view of the lighthouse, still intact today, could be had from Wingaersheek Beech in Gloucester. It is worth noting that already by 1912, Hopper’s choice of composition--his view looking up at the lighthouse from below--and his delight in rendering weighty structural forms are closely related to the works of his maturity.  We can also observe the beginnings of his use of dramatic light and shadow on the lighthouse tower.

Hopper was no doubt aware of the tradition of other painters working in and around Gloucester, a popular summer art colony. Since the mid-nineteenth century, such artists as Fitz Hugh Lane, Sanford Gifford, William Trost Richards, Worthington Whittredge, Winslow Homer, William Morris Hunt, Frank Duveneck, John Henry Twachtman, Childe Hassam, and Maurice Prendergast had preceded him there, eager to enjoy Cape Ann’s intense sunlight, brightened by the sea.

That summer of 1912, Hopper had fallen in with a fellow exhibitor from the MacDowell Club in New York, Leon Kroll, with whom he went on excursions looking for subjects to paint. Kroll, who was the younger by two years, as chatty as Hopper was taciturn, short as Hopper tall, outlived his friend and recalled: 'Hopper was never conversational, nor was he exactly in the group as much as the rest of us were...' It is that image of Hopper the loner that makes these lighthouse pictures appear to be metaphorical self-portraits.

Before their summer on Cape Ann, both Hopper and Kroll had worked in Paris. Both were realists, painting scenes that they observed around them. But in contrast to Hopper, Kroll claimed: 'I don’t have to wait for inspiration. An artist’s vision is working at all times' (Leon Kroll, New York: American Artists Group, 1946, n.p.). Hopper was more skeptical: 'Well, maybe there is such a thing as inspiration.  Maybe it’s the culmination of a thought process.  But it’s hard for me to decide what I want to paint. I go for months without finding it sometimes.  It comes slowly...' (Edward Hopper quoted in Katherine Kuh, The Artist’s Voice: Talks with Seventeen Artists, New York: Harper & Row, p. 141). Nor did Kroll share Hopper’s shyness. He would soon fall in love with a French woman and marry within months. But during that summer, the two men were single at the seashore, working on canvases of approximately the same scale. Kroll, who painted Good Harbor Beach, Bridge at Bass Rock, and other views of the picturesque rocky shore, populated his canvases with dense crowds. In sharp contrast, nearly all Hopper’s compositions that summer were, like Squam Light, figureless, predicting much of his later work.

Kroll’s lively optimism must have helped Hopper with his own painting, for he had a particularly productive summer, working out-of-doors for the first time in America. His subjects in addition to Squam Light, included Briar Neck, where the white surf of the waves breaks energetically against the rocks; also Gloucester Harbor, seen in an overview; Tall Masts, with boats and a typical fishing shack; and the Italian Quarter, with its colorful wood-frame houses tucked in against the rocky shore. Recalling that Kroll had claimed that the modernists would like the angular rocks in the foreground of the latter canvas, Hopper insisted to Lloyd Goodrich that he had no thought of Cezanne or anyone else when he painted them: 'The angularity was just natural to me; I liked those angles.'

Hopper would return to Gloucester and to the Squam River several times during the 1920s, producing there some of his best and most characteristic watercolors including Houses of Squam Light in 1923, which records the houses that lead to the lighthouse depicted in the 1912 canvas. It was that same summer of 1923 that he courted Josephine Nivison in Gloucester, the artist he would marry the next year, in time for them to take their honeymoon on Cape Ann. In 1926, they returned to this favorite spot and he painted House by Squam River.

Squam Light marks a milestone in Hopper’s journey from the French subjects he painted during the previous years to the characteristic American themes that would make his reputation. Almost no such works exist outside of the collection that his widow bequeathed to the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968. All of the other canvases from the summer of 1912 are there."

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