Step into the archive and explore this wide-ranging discussion with American artist Edward Hopper from 1964, filmed at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and hosted by writer and critic Brian O’Doherty. Hopper and O’Doherty are later joined by the artist’s wife, Josephine Hopper, an accomplished artist in her own right and a lively addition to the program’s conversation.
Welcome to the "All Arts Vault."
I'm Maddie Orton.
The "Vault" is a place to go for special acts
as to all things arts,
so we're going into the archives to uncover some of our greatest
gems from over 50 years of archival content
and share these programs with you
as they would've been seen decades ago
when they first aired.
Today, we turn to Edward Hopper,
a towering figure of 20th century American painting,
a master of representing light on canvas
and a subject of this charming 1964 episode
of "Invitation to Art."
This episode, shot at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston,
features a great conversation between host and art critic
Brian O'Doherty and the stoic Edward Hopper.
Later on in the program, Edward's wife, Josephine Hopper,
an accomplished artist in her own right,
joins the conversation as well.
Throughout the episode,
O'Doherty provides wonderful observations
and insight into Hopper's stark and mysterious paintings,
including "Early Sunday Morning,"
and "House by the Railroad."
While looking at Hopper's paintings,
keep in mind that his American tableaux
aren't as much about what's being displayed on the canvas --
a house bathed in early morning sunlight,
anonymous patrons at a corner coffee shop,
a street somewhere in New York City --
as what may have or may still yet unfold
outside of that frame.
We hope you enjoy this look into the world of Edward Hopper.
O'Doherty: It's been said that until an artist has painted it,
an environment remains barren.
And the art of Mr. Edward Hopper
represents a major conquest of the American scene,
especially the town and city,
but after seeing his art, America is changed.
Now, to change a whole area of experience for us
is no small achievement,
and Mr. Edward Hopper has done that
with a strictly honest tenacity
over a lifetime in pictures, such as this,
which achieve a tremendous impact.
This one is called "Early Sunday Morning."
It's done in 1930.
And as we look at it, it's laden with meaning,
and this ability of his to weigh the simplest facts with meaning
that makes his art great.
It's perhaps a quality of stillness that keeps us watching
as if we were anticipating its interruption,
and the street with its calming horizontals is empty
except for that curious dialogue of its only two inhabitants:
the barber's pole, the hydrant that you're looking at now.
There's the barber's pole, and again, they,
throughout intense concentration and isolation,
they arrest our eye and invite us
to fill that sense of meaning
that they give us with speculation,
and the same thing happens in the windows.
They're, at first sight,
not very different from each other,
but then one notices
the most inventive variation in the windows.
Some are only a quarter drawn with blinds.
Others are half-blinded, and some are fully drawn,
and, again, they invite speculation,
which leads one off into many associations,
but to follow them destroys the essence of the picture.
Now, obviously, what we've got here is something
that can only be stated visually and no other way.
It's a quality that makes Edward Hopper
one of the purest of American painters,
and here, again, a scene, casual,
unpopulated in which the shapes of the prosaic are isolated,
accented and transcended.
It's, again, the long horizontals,
this time so arranged as though the converging movement
to the left to catch the end of a train
disappearing behind the wall.
Mr. Hopper's pictures often bring one's thoughts
into the area outside the picture,
outside the immediate frame of reference
so that his work has won a sense of isolation and vastness,
and also behind its immediate solidity
is, I think, a sense of the transitory.
Perhaps, that's more obvious in this picture,
painted in 1942 called "Nighthawks,"
and a great deal has been said about the isolation
of the people in his pictures.
However, the people he introduces into his pictures,
they don't seem oppressed by that loneliness.
They're anonymous types of humanity, for the most part,
and their outstanding characteristic,
well, it seems to be a certain heedlessness,
It's not they who are most important.
Even in this picture, it's the steady fall
of brightness on the lighted wall
to the right that turns this into art.
And the mood is in the light rather than the people,
and it's also in the hypnotic empty streets
with their haunting facades.
Light and atmosphere,
creating with great clarity and exactitude,
a palpable mood which, when you try to define it,
That's very much part of the art of Mr. Edward Hopper,
and this picture is called "New York Cinema,"
and it was done in 1939, although dates, like titles,
are not very important,
for the essential quality of work hasn't changed.
He's only learned to hold that quality
as time goes on more firmly,
and the tawdry baroque magnificence of the cinema
has never been more specifically expressed
or, indeed, the bored indifference of the usherette.
and the clarity of light
that underlines perception
for a few minutes at dawn and evening:
These are the things that Mr. Hopper is very conscious of.
And here's one of his earliest classics,
"House by the Railroad."
The railroad is in the foreground.
You can see it there.
Again, you'll see there's the sense of passage of transience,
literally, here, underlining, literally,
the fact of the house's instant and immensely solid perception,
like something glimpsed from a train in passing.
Now, the strict control and understanding
of what it paints give immense eloquence
to even the slightest gesture in these pictures,
and the gesture may be even a patch of sunlight
or a curtain sucked through a window by the wind.
Now, this, as we look at it,
is infused with a deepest meaning for us
in a way that strikes one as being so translucently simple
that we keep searching for complexities,
and, indeed, such clarity does have many undertones,
and such slow and gathering intensity
represents in each picture, the result, Mr. Hopper tells me,
of an intense creative struggle, and these pictures come slowly,
and they come with difficulty, and, indeed, they form, perhaps,
the most subtle and indivisible interpenetration of form
and content in America painting, for he leaves...
The associations his pictures provoke,
he leaves them open,
and by stating them as many critics have,
something wordless and visual in his paintings is destroyed.
Now, Edward Hopper had a long struggle for recognition
before that historic exhibition of his "Watercolors"
in the Rehn Gallery in 1934.
He developed slowly but with a direct and gathering strength.
Now, there's no doubt that that today,
he is recognized as one of America's immortals in painting,
and I'd like you very much to meet him.
Well, Mr. Hopper, you came up here by train.
Yes, sir. I did.
You don't really like flying, do you?
No, I don't. Yeah.
I'm afraid of it. You're afraid of flying?
I'm afraid to die that way.
That way, yeah.
Well, I think that's one
of the rules of television, you know?
You should never sort of say, "Thank you,"
to a person formally.
"Thank you for being here," that sort of thing.
But I think rules are made, in many ways, by breaking them.
And you, sir, are 78, isn't it?
That's true. And I want to tell you
that you do us great honor by being here.
And Mrs. Hopper, who's with you and whom you'll meet later.
Well, you've mentioned that your pictures come very slowly.
And, perhaps, you could tell me something about that.
Well, it's very hard to define how they come about,
but it's a long process of gestation in the mind...
And arising emotion, I suppose,
but they finally come,
perhaps not more than one or two a year,
but maybe that's enough --
better than a great many not-so-good.
Yeah. Well, do you think about them a long time
before you actually paint?
I do, and I make various small sketches,
sketches of the thing that I wish to do,
also sketches of details
of what I need in the picture,
and that's how it comes about, eventually.
You said it's the result of many impressions.
That's true, combined.
So strictly speaking, many of the pictures are not scenes,
actual scenes, actual places?
Very few, anymore.
There was a time when I worked directly from...
I call it the fact.
Yeah. Some call it nature.
Yeah. But I do that very seldom now
as they're almost all improvised.
Do you do many drawings for them now?
Yes. I do drawings...
Quite often, many drawings.
Well, about the content of your pictures --
I think that some people have seen a lot
of psychological elements in it:
modern man and his man-made environment.
How do you feel about that? Do you think that's true?
Well, I think that's...
Those are the words of critics,
and I can't always agree with what the critics say, you know?
It may be true, and it may not be true.
It's how the, probably,
how the viewer looks on the pictures,
what he sees in them, that they really are.
Could that be?
I guess it could be. Mm-hmm.
What do you think is the content of your pictures?
What's your main interest in painting them?
What do you think makes you choose this particular furniture
in the picture that's become so very much
Hopper furniture, as it were.
You know, the empty street, the frontage of a house,
the dark woods, very often, mysteriously in right or left.
What is it that attracts you in those?
Because you have a particular landscape
that you've made your own.
What's drawn you to it? Have you any idea?
Well, I suppose it's just me,
but I would like to say what Renoir said,
that, "The important element in the picture
cannot be defined"...
"Cannot be explained," perhaps is better.
That's the way I feel about it.
Hmm. You don't feel there's very much future
in talking about painting. What?
You don't feel there's very much future
in talking about painting.
You just go ahead and do it.
Well, no, I don't.
Yet you did feel a certain interest
in illustration at one time, didn't you, earlier on?
The narrative element interested you.
You illustrated a number of stories earlier in your career.
Well, really, illustration really didn't interest me.
I was forced into it
by an effort to make some money, that's all.
I really had no interest in it.
I tried to force myself to have an interest in it,
but it wasn't very real.
I remember, once, you told me that you read a story
by Ernest Hemingway, and you said,
"I'd like to illustrate that."
Oh, perhaps I did say that,
and I thought I'd discovered Hemingway.
How's that? So I wrote to Scribner's
telling them how much I admired Hemingway,
and that I'd made a great discovery,
and, of course, they had discovered him long ago.
What other writers have interested you?
I think, looking at your work, somebody like Dreiser,
Theodore Dreiser, or perhaps Sherwood Anderson
might have certain affinities or common sympathies.
I think maybe they're a little too Midwestern for me.
[Chuckling] Yeah. I admire Emerson very much.
Of course, he wrote no fiction, but it's all philosophy.
Well, I admire him greatly and read him quite a lot,
read him over and over again.
Well, let's get back a moment to the actual paintings.
The content many people find as loneliness, isolation,
I don't think that, as you say, is your feeling.
What as you...
do you feel is the real content of your pictures?
What interests you in them?
Well, I don't believe I can answer that question.
How about light? Light?
Yes, I'm interested in light --
sunlight, in particular.
And I think that that magnificent
last picture you did, which we're looking at now,
which is "Second Story Sunlight."
The sunlight was a thing that interested you very much,
wasn't it? Yes.
I attempted to paint a white sunlight
rather than yellow, which it...
Many painters drop into the habit
of painting sunlight as yellow.
And sunlight isn't really yellow,
except, perhaps, earlier in the day and late in the day.
Otherwise, to me, it has a white quality.
Many of your paintings have been just at
that moment of early dawn
when things have a certain definitude and definition...
Mm-hmm. And crispness of outline.
Many of them, then again, have the same atmosphere
that you get from the starkness of sunset
and the diminishing of light.
Have you ever painted very much or been interested very much
in the full blaze of mid-day sunlight?
Yes. I have, and I've made
several pictures of that character,
this one called "High Noon,"
which is perhaps not a glaring success as sunlight,
but it represents that time of day, at noon.
That picture is owned somewhere in the Middle West.
I don't know just where, I've forgotten,
by a private collector.
Well, now, when you mentioned "High Noon,"
it brings something to my mind.
Well, it includes Gary Cooper in it.
That was a movie that was made, and I mention movies
because I know that you watch them a lot.
You're very interested in them. Mm-hmm. I am.
And I think it's just the observant eye
that interests you very much in them,
from what you have told me.
For instance, I can tell that by dislikes,
in a way, more than likes,
I mentioned to you the Swedish filmmaker Bergman,
Ingmar Bergman, and you... How do you feel about him?
I don't care for his work.
It's rather false and sentimental to me,
and I don't really care for it. Hmm.
But I like some of the French producers very much.
There's a picture produced recently that I would like much
to see called "Breathless."
I haven't yet seen it, but I heard it's very fine.
Well, moving from movies to paintings, again,
who are the...
You know, we always talk influences, I suppose.
Who do you feel means a lot
to you as painters and instruments to your art?
Well, I don't think I really have any direct influences.
Of course, I admire some of the great ones
who most painters admire:
Rembrandt, Degas, Courbet --
Courbet's landscapes, rather than figures --
and most of the great French painters.
Mm-hmm. What about the Americans?
I mean, you have been...
You know, you're so directly in the American traditional,
according to every critic who writes,
"Mr. Edward Hopper continues a tradition
that goes back through Homer to Copley."
Do you feel that?
I suppose that is true.
I admire Eakins very much.
I think he is a world painter,
although he has not that reputation as yet.
Perhaps he will have, someday.
Do you admire Copley very much?
His America period, yes. Mm-hmm.
And what about Winslow Homer that many have drawn parallels?
Yes. I admire Winslow Homer.
Well, in all those three that
we've mentioned, Eakins, Homer and Copley,
there's a certain lack of rhetoric
and of the sort of baroque gesture.
Do you... Is this something that you object to,
the artificiality in art?
Do you object to that very much?
Yes, I do. I do.
You don't... You can't see it
in either Eakins or Homer or Ryder.
There is another painter who is perhaps not...
hasn't the estimation that he should have,
an American painter, and that's Homer Martin.
Mm-hmm. He wasn't always good,
but some of his things are excellent.
Well, now, talking about artificiality in painting,
you went to Paris as a young man early on.
You spent... I think you paid three visits to Paris, early on.
Yes, I did. I did.
And this was certainly a very complex period and one
in which the artificiality of art
and so far as its elements and its organic elements
were being juxtaposed and played around with a great deal,
and tell me something about the impression Paris
had on you then, what it meant to you then.
Well, I went to Paris at the time
when the [French] period was just about dying out,
but it had been talked to me a great deal,
and I was somewhat influenced by it because, perhaps,
I thought it was the thing that I thought I should do,
so the things that I did in Paris,
the first things had decidedly
a rather modified [French] method,
but later, I got over that,
and the later period, things in Paris,
were more of an order of a kind of the thing that I do now.
Who did you meet in Paris?
Did you meet many of the painters there?
No. I met hardly any painters.
No Picassos, no Braques, no...
How about the Americans?
Well, I didn't... I don't think I met
any Americans that were of much importance.
Mm-hmm. Well, when you came back to America from Paris,
it must've been very difficult for you to try and come to terms
with a whole new continent that hadn't yet, in many ways,
been turned into art, or at least not as you saw it.
Well, it was.
Of course, it's an experience that most Americans
who have been Europe for the first time
that America seems very crude and raw
and unsympathetic to art, and it still is, to some extent.
Mm-hmm. What do you think...
I think you have a quotation
that is very close to your heart from Goethe.
Oh. And I was going to ask you
what you think of...
What is most important to you in art?
What art means to you, all those general questions that,
perhaps, you might care to say something about.
Well, this quotation is literature,
but it could easily apply to painting,
but I know that many contemporary painters
and show the greatest contempt for this quotation,
but even so, I'm going to read it.
"The beginning and end of all literary activity
is the reproduction of the world that surrounds me
by a means of the world that is in me,
all things being grasped, related, recreated, molded
and reconstructed in a personal form and an original manner."
To me, that applies to painting, fundamentally,
and I know there have been...
I know there have been so many different opinions on painting,
now, that there will be many who protest that
this is outmoded and outdated, but I think it's fundamental.
That says it very eloquently.
Now, I think that anyone who knows the Hoppers...
Because I am here in the position
of having come between husband and wife.
The Hoppers are barely inseparable,
and I think that we should ask Mrs. Hopper
remedy that, and ask her to join us.
I think we should.
Mrs. Hopper is also a painter.
Here is her painting of the Hoppers'...
the interior of the Hoppers' home in Cape Cod,
which you see is the excellence of an immediate environment
again and again with affection and strength.
What you're looking at now is a picture that Mr. Hopper
painted of Mrs. Hopper many years ago,
which is, you said, "an intense and affectionate,"
and talking about that picture, Mr. Hopper,
you know, you sort of have been...
You know, Mrs. Hopper, how do you feel about that picture?
Because what I'm going to say is this,
that Mr. Hopper is supposed to play down things
in his pictures, play down the emotion.
Do you feel that that's an affectionate picture,
that one he painted of you?
When I recall things that he has done of people with double chins
and grabs right onto things they wouldn't like at all,
he didn't do that this time to me.
Yes. I think that's somehow tender
and an austere way, quite affectionate.
You trained as a painter with Robert Henri, didn't you?
Yes, indeed. Do you think a lot of him?
How could one not?
He's a great prophet of our age, I think.
He gave so generously to all of us, like the bird
that plucks the feathers out of his breast for the young?
He seemed to do that very thing.
Do you think he's a fine painter, Mrs. Hopper?
Well, I think if you give it all away
before you get to the easel,
there's a little deficiency of what's...
He was a generous-hearted man.
Yes, generous-hearted man, he was.
Very, very, very,
tremendously concerned with all of us, each one.
He gave so much to them.
What do you think of Henri as a painter, Mr. Hopper?
I think he was moderately good.
You don't agree with that, Mrs. Hopper?
Oh, it's so ungenerous!
[ Laughing ]
But you know, men are not grateful creatures.
You think not? No, I don't think so.
Why do you say that? It's woman that are grateful.
Really? I think you're... And with men, "Who wants it?
Who cares about it?" Oh.
I think you're a little hard on us, aren't you?
Well, it seems to me that women are the ones
that show the gratitude for the little things and big
and who remember over the years.
Well, now, you have, in many ways,
in the position of living with what is an American monument,
by now, although I don't know how Mr. Hopper would like
to hear me describe him as that,
and have you found this difficult for your own painting?
Well, we manage to get on.
I have a studio of my own, so I'm out --
all my things are out from underfoot,
which is very fortunate. Mm-hmm.
You know, talking to Mr. and Mrs. Hopper
brings a whole era to warm and affectionate remembrance,
and names such as Guy Pene du Bois
and the Bellows
and Reginald Marsh, Reggie Marsh, as we call him,
and many others come to mind, and I think also,
there's another person from an era that perhaps
one wouldn't associate with you that comes to mind too.
That is Yvette Guilbert. Oh.
She was a friend of yours, wasn't she?
I have seen it taken such big turns.
I saw something of her. She was very good to me.
She seemed to take a lot of interest.
It was a thing like Henri, again.
She was always... The attitude was giving.
She was functioning when you were in Paris,
wasn't she, Mr. Hopper, Yvette Guilbert?
Did you go see her?
No, and I never saw her in Paris, no.
None of her shows?
No. I heard about her.
What did you hear about her?
Well, I'd rather not say what I heard about her.
Well, he saw it at a time much too young, too long ago
when he was too young,
I suppose, but when I met her, she was doing...
The last time she was in America,
she was doing the... the...
"Légendes dorées" -- medieval things...
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well...
And the "Death of Christ" and the "Birth of Christ."
Yes. And it was in,
on that program,
that she asked me to be the Madonna of the enunciation.
Of course, can't interpret it, what she did with it.
Haven't heard of anyone else doing it.
And the Virgin walks in the garden.
Yes. And it's the Angel Gabriel.
And Gabriel tells her not only of the birth of the child
but of the life and the final...
Gabriel throws his arms out that way.
And the crucifixion is prophesied.
I know, it was a very moving thing, then, yes, indeed.
Yes. Yes. And, of course, maybe he just flops for that.
Wonderful. Well, time is hard on our heels, Mrs. Hopper.
Time is hard on heels. Yes.
And just before we finish, perhaps you could each tell me,
in one sentence, do you think that...
Are you satisfied with the position of art
as it stands at the moment, yes or no?
With... With art, modern art,
at the moment?
Oh, it's as though we're going through a depression.
[ Laughs ] What about you, Mr. Hopper?
I feel not at all satisfied, but it was a...
It will reassert itself, the fundamentals.
Thank you very much.
The fundamentals will reassert themselves.
Well, you've been listening to two of the foremost citizens
in what you might describe as the world of art in America:
Mr. and Mrs. Edward Hopper.
Thank you very much.
This is NET, National Educational Television.
The important element in a picture cannot be defined.
It's not hard to see why Edward Hopper
might have been attracted to this quote
from Impressionist painter Renoir.
It's these undefined qualities in Hopper's work,
how the light hits the side of a building,
the thoughts and inner lives of his subjects
that make his paintings so alluring.
Through his study of stark American environments
and the shifting qualities of light,
Hopper is a master at crafting
an undefinable mood and atmosphere.
It continues to capture the interest of audiences
all over the world.
Thanks for watching.
I'm Maddie Orton.
See you next time on the "All Arts Vault."