Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Hopper: Gazing at Landscape and
Making up Mental Photographs
they are his way of apprehending place and
sharing his images of it.
Hopper's paintings are popular for height-
ening visual perception and for the scarcity of
people and/or objects they depict. The less they
display, the more interpretive freedom they
allow by a process of negative differentiation
and the more the viewer's gaze is focused on
the few things represented. Many of his can-
vases recognizably reproduce or induce a some-
how voyeuristic feeling through the impression
of gaze they elicit (Hughes, 1999). Windows, for
example, are a threshold placing the observer
out of the scene and inviting an intrusive gaze
(Schmied, 2005). Focus on Hopper's oeuvre
reveals that many of his paintings underpin a
travel narrative induced by his own experience
as a traveller.
It comes as no surprise that the last Hopper
exhibition at the Whitney Museum, NY (held
June-December 2006), was titled 'Holiday in
Reality: Edward Hopper'. Even before that, the
major 1980 retrospective exhibition held at
the Whitney Museum of Modern Art testifi es to
the importance of the travel theme to Hopper, a
fact that led to the organization of a full section
around the theme 'travelling man'.
Travel means commoditized place con-
sumption. Many of Hopper's paintings take
places and landscapes as their themes and, in
particular, New England is widely featured in his
land and seascapes. By looking at paintings
such as Prospect Street, Gloucester (1928),
Blackhead, Monhegan (1916-1919), or The
Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929), the viewer
observes inviting images of the countryside and
secluded places which seem to have been
arrested in time. The same way a tourist takes
photographs, Hopper rendered his apprehen-
sion of place in paint contributing to an
on-going inter-pictorial dialogue where, for
instance, notions such as solitude, rural setting
and the absence of far-fetched modern comforts
seem to be implied as positive.
Painting landscapes is obviously not origi-
nal. As stated above, the same has been done
by many painters long before and after Hopper.
Besides the aforementioned European painters,
in North America, Albert Bierstat produced
some of the most awe-inspiring renderings of
the American wilderness and the Luminist
school did likewise. What seems to distinguish
The travel-painting link in Hopper's work can
be traced by analysing a selected corpus of
images that reveal how a travel/tourism-related
narrative can be construed around his paint-
ings. Edward Hopper's love of travel is amply
acknowledged in literature and highlighted by
his biographers in particular. As with many
other fellow artists, Hopper travelled to Europe
in 1906-1907, 1909 and 1910. The trips to
Europe were prompted by the urge to learn
about painting and not so much by any wish to
experience travel. He stayed for longer peri-
ods in Paris, as was usual for painters at the
time, but he also travelled to Madrid and
Toledo in his last European trip. While he
never left the American continent after 1910,
he did go on several car journeys with his
wife to California, Texas, South Carolina,
Massachusetts and Mexico. From 1912, he
spent summers in Gloucester, Massachusetts,
but from 1914 onwards the coast of Maine
would become a favoured destination for travel
and a theme for many oil paintings and water-
colours - supported by the construction of a stu-
dio house in Truro, where he spent almost all his
summers from 1934 onwards (Levin, 1980;
Liesbock, 1988; Kranzfelder, 2000; Wynne,
2002). It seems travel and inspiration formed a
bond in Hopper's case:
While Hopper found inspiration in New York
City where he resided most of the year, he often
grew restless or found himself unable to paint.
One of his means of coping with this feeling
was to travel with Jo. They went to famous
tourist attractions, as well as to extremely
ordinary places. In the latter, Hopper was often
able to discover visually interesting subject
matter despite the commonplace surroundings.
(Levin, 1980, p. 46)
Love of travel dictated the purchase of Hopper's
fi rst car in 1927, one of the few luxuries Hopper
indulged in throughout his life. Furthermore,
the titles of his paintings clearly identify the
places he visited - the titles are a verbal strategy
keeping referentiality clear - although they
may be more or less realistic renderings of the
landscapes he saw. Paintings seem to work for
Hopper as photographs do for other travellers;
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