The American Painter

Edward Hopper by Carol Troyen (2007)- A collection of nine essays on the life and art of one of the United States’ most celebrated painters. It includes over 100 paintings as examples. This is a massive book, printed on high-quality paper. Originally a companion to a large traveling Hopper exhibition, the result is the classic coffee table book. It’s the kind of book you can flip open to any page and make discoveries in both the images and words.

Here’s a book I chose almost entirely because I wanted to look at the pictures! Edward Hopper is a painter that has fascinated me from the first time I saw his iconic “Nighthawks”. As I slowly (oh, sooooo slowly) work my way into watercolor painting, it’s Hopper’s work that I keep circling back to. He worked in both oil and watercolor and created images that are American to their core. I feel a quick connection with his work. There are so many scenes that are familiar beyond my experience. They connect with our cultural mythology and history. At the same time, Hopper included the seamier side of America as well in

So when I saw this in my local library, I couldn’t resist. When I picked it up, I nearly changed my mind. The hardback version is heavy! But I lugged it up to the counter and brought it home with me.

As mentioned above, my primary interest was in the images of his work. One habit that watercolor painting has given me is looking at the colors in a painting. How do they create the image I’m viewing? In watercolor painting, you begin with the lightest colors and work toward the dark. That’s been a challenge for me. So look at the painting and think, “What went on first? Second? Third?” Then I look to see if there are clear lines between the layers or do they blend? That tells me about the techniques used. Then at the end, I go back to where I began. The overall image. What does it say to me? How do I react?

Hopper is working as a realist in a time when more abstract forms, like Expressionism, are in vogue. He swims against the tide with images of everyday people doing everyday things. They sit, talk, read, or stare into the distance. He also depicted classically American buildings and architecture. From (much beloved by me) lighthouses to small-town streets and middle-class homes. It is an America I just missed, growing up in the suburban America of the ‘60s and ‘70s. But the images were iconic to me. Hopper provided the vision of the heartland that stood at the center of America’s sense of identity up to that time.

The images inevitably drew me to the words. When I saw a painting that spoke to me, I needed to know more. Troyen, a Curator Emerita at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, takes the academic prose expected in such a book and makes it an easy read. She drew me into the life of the artist, including his struggles with creativity at the end of his career.

I came away with a deeper appreciation of the artist and a better understanding of the man behind that art. Stretching my reading list in new ways is also a benefit.

If you’re into Hopper I would think this is a must-read. If you only know him from “Nighthawks” or don’t know him at all, here are some images to ponder:


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