The history of art can often seem like merely a roll call of artistic movements. But there are a handful of artists in every generation that defy simple classification; avoiding the obsessions of their day, they set out on their own esoteric course. American painter Edward Hopper is one such figure in American art. In an era when painting was growing increasingly preoccupied with abstraction, he stated: ‘My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature.’ Through his scrupulous examination of the everyday, Hopper produced some of the most iconic and enigmatic works of 20th-century America in all its loneliness and elegiac beauty.
Born in Nyack, New York, and trained at the New York School of Art, Hopper travelled extensively in Europe in the late 1900s, where he became heavily influenced by Impressionism. Though he exhibited his painting Sailing (1911) at the famous Post-Impressionist Armory Show of 1913 in New York, and had his first solo exhibition in 1920, he sold little during his early career and struggled with the influence of European painting on his work. Wanting to free American art from its continental influences, over the early 1920s he spent time travelling across the country. There he discovered the subject matter that would form his abiding preoccupation – the loneliness and emptiness of modern America, a faded world of provincial offices, gas station forecourts, shabby hotel bedrooms, automats, elegiac seaboards and semi-abandoned landscapes. It would result in a startling body of work including his masterpieces House by the Railroad (1925), Gas (1940) and the iconic Nighthawks (1942).
By 1933 Hopper was considered a major figure in American art and had had his first major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Two further major retrospectives were held of his work over his lifetime, both at the Whitney Museum in New York. The last, in 1964, saw him lauded by a new generation of artists as the forefather of Pop Art and Photorealism.
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