Lot 15
  • 15

EDWARD HOPPER | Two Comedians

12,000,000 - 18,000,000 USD
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  • Edward Hopper
  • Two Comedians
  • signed EDWARD HOPPER (lower left)
  • oil on canvas
  • 29 by 40 inches
  • (73.7 by 101.6 cm)
  • Painted in 1966.


[With]Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery, New York
[With]M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., New York
Mr. and Mrs. Irving Felt, New York (probably acquired from the above)
[With]Peter H. Davidson & Co., Inc., New York
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Sinatra, Rancho Mirage, California, 1972 (probably acquired from the above)
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa 1995


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, 1967 Pittsburgh International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting and Sculpture, October 1967-January 1968, no. 265, illustrated, n.p.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; London, Hayward Gallery; Amsterdam, Netherlands, Stedelijk Museum; Düsseldorf, Germany, Städtische Kunsthalle; Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist, September 1980-February 1982, p. 55, illustrated pp. 56, 250
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Edward Hopper: Paintings, October-November 1993, pp. 46, 47, illustrated p. 47
London, England, Tate Modern; Cologne, Germany, Museum Ludwig, Edward Hopper, May 2004-January 2005, pp. 44, 58, illustrated fig. 50, pp. 222-23
Paris, France, Grand Palais, Edward Hopper, October 2012-January 2013, n.p.


Lloyd Goodrich, Edward Hopper, New York, 1971, p. 154, illustrated p. 156
James R. Mellow, “The World of Edward Hopper,” The New York Times Magazine, September 5, 1971, p. 23, illustrated p. 18
Bryan Robertson, “Hopper’s Theater,” The New York Review of Books, vol. 17, December 16, 1971, p. 39
Avis Berman, “A Master Artist and the Secret of His Past,” The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland, October 28, 1979, section D, p. 3
Gail Levin, “Edward Hopper, Francophile”, Arts Magazine, vol. 53, June 1979, p. 119, illustrated fig. 34
Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: As Illustrator, New York, 1979, pp. 44, 46, illustrated fig. 55
Ann Barry, “The Full Range of Edward Hopper,” The New York Times, September 21, 1980, section 2, p. 29 illustrated
Bruce Duff Hooton, “America’s Creative Realist,” Horizon, vol. 23, September 1980, p. 54
Gail Levin, “Edward Hopper: The Influence of Theatre and Film,” Arts Magazine, vol. 55, October 1980, pp. 124-25, illustrated fig. 24
Gail Levin, “Hopper, un gigante del realismo Americano: l’America e sola al mondo,” Bolaffiarte, October 1980, p. 48, illustrated pp. 42, 43
James Monte, “Edward Hopper: An American Original—the Art”, Museum Magazine, vol. 1, September/October 1980, p. 68
Ronald Paulson, “Edward Hopper and Some Precursors,” Bennington Review, December 1980, p. 71, illustrated p. 64
Curt Truninger, “Edward Hopper Retrospective in New Yorker Whitney Museum,” Der Bund, Bern, Switzerland, November 8, 1980, p. 3, illustrated
Patricia Turner, “Consistency of Edward Hopper Evident at Whitney,” Courier-News, Bridgewater, New Jersey, September 26, 1980, p. B-1
The Arts Council of Great Britain, London, Edward Hopper 1882-1967, 1981, p. 61
Louis Cooke, “Edward Hopper Exhibit,” P.S., January 14, 1981, p. 20
William Feaver, “The Painter of Lonely Streets and Heartbreak Hotels,” London Observer, February 1, 1981, p. 32
Raimund Hoghe, “Menschen auf Distanz”, Die Zeit, Hamburg, West Germany, July 17, 1981, p. 35, illustrated
Gail Levin, “Editor’s Statement,” Art Journal, vol. 41, Summer 1981, p. 116, illustrated fig. 1
Gail Levin, “Hopper’s America,” Bijutsu Techo, vol. 33, March 1981, illustrated fig. 28, n.p.
Michael McGuinness, “Canvases of Light and Life”, Metro Magazine, December 1981/January 1982, p. 13
Verena Von Korff, “Das Leben—Ein Wartesaal”, Frankfurter Neue Presse, July 30, 1981, p. 9
Gail Levin, Edward Hopper, New York, 1984, pp. 79, 80, illustrated p. 90
Morton Manilla, “Edward Hopper: The Religion of the Ego,” C, no. 8, Winter 1985, p. 28, illustrated
The Great Artists: Their Lives, Works and Inspiration, Part 88: Hopper, London, 1986, p. 2791
Robert Hobbs, Edward Hopper, New York, 1987, p. 146, illustrated p. 147
Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, vol. III, no. O-366, p. 380, illustrated p. 381
Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, Los Angeles, California, 1995, pp. 572-74, illustrated p. 573
Deborah Lyons, Adam Weinberg and Julie Grau, Edward Hopper and the American Imagination, London, 1995, illustrated p. 28
Deborah Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work, New York, 1997, p. 89, illustrated
Virginia M. Mecklenburg, Edward Hopper: The Watercolors, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 165
Patricia McDonnell, On the Edge of Your Seat: Popular Theater and Film in Early Twentieth Century American Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 2002, p. 140
Gerry Souter, Edward Hopper: Light and Dark, New York, 2007, illustrated pp. 224, 225
Walter Wells, Silent Theatre: The Art of Edward Hopper, London, 2007, pp. 16, 166, 187, 233, 235, 236, illustrated p. 241
Gerald Matt, Western Motel: Edward Hopper and Contemporary Art, Nuremberg, Germany, 2008, pp. 38, 40, illustrated fig. 14, p. 40
Carter E. Foster, ed., Edward Hopper, Milan, Italy, 2009, no. 44, p. 83, illustrated p. 85
Carter E. Foster, Hopper Drawing, New York, 2013, p. 121


Please contact the American Art department for this condition report: (212) 606 7280 or Laura.West@sothebys.com
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely players…” - William Shakespeare

“The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone” - Henrik Ibsen

Two Comedians is an existential tour de force that represents the culmination of Edward Hopper’s career. His final painting, it is a seminal and poignant work that embodies the most important and defining themes of his art.

In Two Comedians Hopper presents himself and his wife, Jo, onstage, about to take their final bow, before turning to walk into the unknown. An artist herself, Jo was Hopper’s muse and model and the protagonist of a number of his paintings. Here, they hold hands and gesture tenderly to one another, symbolizing their close bond as Hopper acknowledges the significant role that Jo has played in his life and art.  He “pays homage not only to her cherished memories of her early acting career but to her active collaboration as his model. He allows her the recognition she had long sought, casting her as his partner, sharing the spotlight and the honor on the stage after a well-executed performance. The linked actors face the end together” (Gail Levin, Edward Hopper, New York, 1995, pp. 574).

Given his lifelong fascination with the theater and film, it is appropriate that Hopper has chosen the stage as the subject of his final work. Theater was the subject of one of his earliest known works, [Solitary Figure in a Theatre] from circa 1902-04, and Walter Wells writes, “From childhood on, Edward Hopper found fascination in the theater. His tastes grew from the parlor puppet shows of his youth to embrace Molière, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Shaw, and among contemporaries, Eugene O’Neill, Thornton Wilder, Elmer Rice – and, later still, Arthur Miller and Paddy Chayevsky.  For years, he saved the ticket stubs from every play he attended” (Silent Theater: the Art of Edward Hopper, London, 2007, p. 16). Hopper returned to the subject of theater throughout his career. In works such as New York Movie (1939, The Museum of Modern Art, New York) there is an overt reference to the theater, but in many of his paintings, it is evoked by a stage-like setting and sense of voyeurism and paused narrative. David Anfam comments of this lifelong preoccupation that [Solitary Figure in a Theatre], which depicts a lone spectator looking at a curtained stage, “initiates what the late Two Comedians 1966 finishes; a lifelong rumination on spectatorship in which dark blankness and blank lightness are flip sides of one coin” (“Rothko’s Hopper: A Strange Wholeness” in Sheena Wagstaff, ed., Edward Hopper, London, 2004, p. 58). The appeal of theater to Hopper was manifold: the artifice, the performance, the voyeuristic and escapist aspects, the anonymity that one felt in a crowded theater and the solitude in a near empty one – themes that he would explore in his art.

Two Comedians manifests a number of leitmotifs that recur throughout Hopper’s career. As with theater, his interest in clowns, or pierrot characters began early in life, while he was studying in Paris and is most notably realized in Soir Bleu (1914, Whitney Museum of American Art). In this stage-like scene, the melancholy figure of the clown appears isolated even though he is in a crowded café. As an artist, Hopper felt an affinity with performers, seeing them as fellow outsiders and sharing the loneliness he associated with this existence and indeed, the clown in Soir Bleu bears some similarity to Hopper in build and appearance. In Two Comedians, he underscores this connection by clothing Jo and himself as pierrots and cropping the work so as to eliminate the audience. Gail Levin writes, “The comedians in their white costumes with ruffled collars recall Pierrot and Pierrette of the commedia dell’arte, which provided a frequent theme in the French symbolist poetry that Edward and Jo first quoted to each other in courtship” (Edward Hopper, New York, 1995, p. 573).

The darkness behind the actors is evocative of earlier paintings such as Automat (1927, Des Moines Art Center) and imbues the scene with the sense of mystery and paused narrative that is characteristic of his best works. David Anfam writes, “It is difficult to ignore the implication that the void, before which spectators come to deliberate interminably, has symbolic potential. In his late painting, Two Comedians, the long awaited performance finally materializes. Edward and his wife Jo take their last bows beside artificial foliage and darkness” (“Edward Hopper Recent Studies” in Art History, vol. 4, no. 4, December 1981, p. 459). It has also often been noted that the empty spaces and voids of Hopper’s work is connected to the theme of death, which is particularly poignant in Two Comedians given that it is Hopper’s final painting.

Hopper believed, “If you could say it in words, there’d be no reason to paint” (as quoted in ‘The Silent Witness,” Time, December 24, 1956, p. 38). He worked slowly and liked to think through every aspect of a painting before putting brush to canvas. This resulted in a prolific production of sketches but relatively small output of oils over the course of a long career. His sketches demonstrate his creative process and his working through an idea to get to a composition that accurately expressed all that he wanted to in a picture. Often his final oils are more spare and refined than his preliminary studies - sketches for Two Comedians show that Hopper explored several more complex variations before settling on the final composition. Iterations included the two protagonists sashaying at the back of the theater and Hopper leaping on stage while Jo climbed on to join him. As with Two Comedians, in stripping away excessive motion and visual elements in his final oils, he was able to create visually arresting and enigmatic compositions that are imbued with tension and manifest the existential angst that accompanies modern life. The process of painting was not an easy one for Hopper as he always struggled to maintain the purity of his idea and create an image that expressed exactly what he wanted it to. He wrote, “I find, in working, always the disturbing intrusion of elements not a part of my most interested vision, and the inevitable obliteration and replacement of this vision by the work itself as it proceeds. The struggle to prevent this decay is, I think, the common lot of all painters to whom the invention of arbitrary forms has lesser interest” (“Notes on Painting” in Edward Hopper: Retrospective Exhibition, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 17). In Two Comedians he masterfully maintains the clarity of his vision, paring away visual distractions to present a starkly moving scene, one that is simultaneously autobiographical and universal.

The pictorial conceit of isolating the two figures on stage also creates the sense of voyeurism so common in Hopper’s work. Here the viewer becomes the audience and a participant in the Hoppers’ final performance. Thus, the work goes beyond an existential commentary on the role of the artist in society to become a gesture of ultimate parting from the public, manifesting Hopper’s statement that “Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world…The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm” (Reality, no, 1, Spring 1953, p. 8).