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Revisiting Edward Hopper’s „Cape Cod Morning“

Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning, 1950

In honor of the 136th anniversary of Edward Hopper’s birth, we’re taking a closer look at his iconic painting, “Cape Cod Morning,” one of the highlight’s of SAAM’s collection.

In Cape Cod Morning, a woman looks out a bay window at something in the middle distance, something just beyond the frame. The window, cast in deep shadows, juts out from a facade bathed in brilliant light. Here, half the composition is given over to a richly hued, golden grass landscape, one tethered only by undulating clouds. A strain reverberates throughout the piece, situated everywhere and nowhere in particular. This inherent tension has come to define much of Edward Hopper’s work, but to probe it deeply, as observers are wont to do, is to miss the artist’s subtleties, his splendor.

Born July 22, 1882 in Nyack, New York, Hopper, from an early age, gravitated to solitary pursuits, among them, sketching and sailing, studying with intention the nuances of light and shadow. The artist, who would go on to produce more than 800 paintings, watercolors, and prints, remained a detached observer of the world. Writing in The Guardian, Laura Cumming echoes this: “‘one was aware,’ wrote a friend, ‘of a slight displacement in [Hopper’s] experience of his own person…as when we are strangers to ourselves, and become objects of our own contemplation.’” Implicit in this is a worldview that privileges the literal over the metaphorical. It follows, then, that imposing too lofty a narrative, or any narrative, for that matter, on Hopper’s works, is to do his carefully constructed oeuvre a disservice.

Venturing cautiously in interpreting work like Hopper’s proves particularly useful as paintings like Cape Cod Morning obscure as much as they reveal. In an essay for The New York Review of Books, Mark Strand writes that, in Hopper’s hands, “moments of the real world, the one we all experience, seem mysteriously taken out of time. The way the world glimpsed in passing from a train, say, or a car, will reveal a piece of a narrative whose completion we may or may not attempt.” What this view of the artist’s work obfuscates, though, is the meticulous construction of works like Cape Cod Morning. Indeed, Hopper himself attested to the careful execution of these works, an intention that involved as much elaboration as it did observation. In Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, Gail Levin writes that the artist sought “the esthetic confluence of that ‘something inside me and something outside…to personalize the rainpipe.’”

Of the woman in Cape Cod Morning, too, reality is so abstracted as to present not a woman gazing out the window, but a figure gracefully removed from the world. Indeed, Strand asserts that “the women in Hopper’s rooms do not have a future or a past. They have come into existence with the rooms we see them in.” To assign too personal a meaning to any of these figures, then, is to belie their staged, cinematic like, construction.

Perhaps, as evidenced in Cape Cod Morning, as it is in a great many Hopper works, the ambiguity of these paintings is their very strength. In his 2012 Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture in American Art, Kevin Salatino asserted that “when [Hopper] is cryptic, he is cryptic in the most interesting way.” To be sure, the artist’s masterful ability to render the momentary, or seemingly momentary, is a talent that is unmistakably his. The task, then, is to dispense with ad hoc narratives and to appreciate in Cape Cod Morning the subtle play of light on the wall, deceptively discrete as it might be.

Link to the original article here.

A Brush with History: Letters to Jonathan Van Ness

A painting of Mrs. Charles Boynton Darling.

Unidentified, Mrs. Charles Boynton Darling, ca. 1828, watercolor on ivory, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Catherine Walden Myer Fund, 1937.6.2

Inspired by the popularity of Netflix series Queer Eye, some of our portrait sitters from the 18th and 19th centuries are desperately hoping to get similarly sage advice on their own grooming and lifestyle choices. Who better to ask than Jonathan Van Ness, QE’s coiffer-in-chief? 

Truth Is Beauty

A picture of a woman touching the legs of a large sculpture piece at the Renwick Gallery.

Miyah Powe interacting with „Truth is Beauty“ at the Renwick Gallery for No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. Photo by Libby Weiler.

“What would the world be like if women were truly safe?” This is the question Marco Cochrane challenges both male and female audiences to consider when viewing his sculptureTruth is Beauty. The sculpture – a woman on her toes, stretched backwards – is made from stainless steel and mesh. I was surprised to learn that the 18-foot figure in the Renwick Gallery is a replica of the 55-foot original that stood at Burning Man in 2013 (and it’s still nearly four times my height!). When I entered the Burning Man exhibit at the Renwick, I was immediately drawn to the figure that nearly touched the ceiling. Truth is Beauty is the largest object in the room; the Amazonian figure towered over other museumgoers and other works around it. I was instantly overwhelmed, first, by the sheer size of the sculpture.

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