Critics tend to see Edward Hopper's painting and Edward Hirsch's poem as two desperate visions of a particular time and place in American history - the end of the major industrial movement in the United States - where industrial traffic aggressively reconfigured the American landscape. Even as it brought work and culture to parts of the country that welcomed or needed them, it devastated or forced abandonment in other areas. See more
What was progress for some was decline for others, and what remained after the storm, so to speak, was a truly abandoned structure: Hopper's Victorian house is closed, isolated, sitting in a seemingly permanent shadow; Hirsch imagines it as "someone who is about to be left alone / Again, and can't take it".
Both painter and writer, implicitly and explicitly, take the artist as an additional subject in these works. Hopper does this largely through his interpretation of the scene; Hirsch includes the painter - "the man behind the easel... brutal as sunlight" - more explicitly; both men explore the artist's role in the meaning of the historical moment. And perhaps both succeed in offering solace in the beauty of their forms.
This lesson invites a close reading of Hopper's painting and Hirsch's poem in order to explore the kinds of emotions each work generates in the viewer or reader, and how the painter and poet have achieved these responses.
Edward Hopper is one of the major figures of the American realist movement, with paintings such as House by the Railroad (1925) and Nighthawks (1942).
Born in 1882 in New York State, Edward Hopper entered the prestigious New York School of Art after his secondary education. He moved to New York in 1908 where he was hired as an illustrator for advertising campaigns. He soon tired of the job and exhibited paintings in his spare time. See more
Around 1915, he painted scenes of American life and in 1920, he presented his first exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club, which was a great success. In 1924 he married Josephine Verstille Nivison.
His particular style, made of simple forms and rather dark colours, plays on the contrasts between light and shadow. Hopper managed to diversify his realistic approach, with staged landscapes, sometimes urban and sometimes rural. The characters he paints often inspire an impression of solitude and exclusion. Most of his oil paintings reflect a country in the throes of economic and social change. In 1945, Edward Hopper was admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received numerous awards and honours, including the title of Doctor of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1955.