Mad About Paris, Much more than a guide
Photo: © AFP, Andreas Solaro, MAP
You might have seen his paintings a million times: reproduced on posters, postcards and book covers. But have you seen the real Hopper? Have you ever felt the magical moment, the encounter when standing in front of one of his mysterious paintings?
If not, then quickly head to the Grand Palais, which is finally dedicating a retrospective to the American whose work has never been shown in France in such and extensive and intelligent way. This might be the opportunity to really discover Edward Hopper’s work, so fascinating, so intriguing.
What is so strange about his paintings? His picture-book obviousness perhaps. Or is the emptiness of his paintings? There are no crowds, never. Houses often play the main role as if there where human beings. Sometimes the space is inhabited by a few men or women, often couples who, in spite of being two, seem so very solitary.
Hopper, there is no doubt, has reinvented landscape painting and urban scenes. But the emptiness, the vast spaces work like a mirror: they are showing man in their existential and helpless seclusion, in what the German philosopher Heidegger at the same time called Geworfenheit, throwness.
Nighthawks (1942) is probably one of his most known paintings. Once you see the original, you’ll notice that the scene is separated from the observer by a glass pane. Hopper transforms us into voyeurs. Even the perspective of his street and house paintings always gives you a position outside the human scale. You’ll never be inside the scene; you’ll always be a voyeur.
The Paris exhibition is chronologically and shows you the beginnings of Hopper among his contemporaries. Hopper entered Roberts Henri’s studio at the New York School of Art in the early years of the twentieth century. You can see the paintings of what was later called the Ashcan School deeply influenced by Degas, or to be more precise: his Hispanic side, which was, itself, influenced by Velázquez.
Then comes Paris. Europe. Hopper, raised in a Baptist and very puritan family, discovers life, discovers love. Discovers colours. Discovers impressionism. In other words: After coming in contact with French life and culture, Hopper immediately became a lifelong Francophile quickly adopting Impressionism technique.
But once back in the US after several stays in France, Hopper is confronted to an American public that doesn’t care about European painting anymore. His impressive farewell to France is called “Soir Bleu” (1914): a sublime and sad allegory of the life as an artist showing himself as a smoking clown who resembles Watteau’s Gilles, a much loved painting Hopper has seen so many times in the Louvre. The public hated his “Soir Bleu”. His contemporaries where showing the poverty and gritty urban scenes.
Between 1906 and 1924 Hopper only sold one single painting. Look at his work gathered in Paris and you’ll understand that he quickly emancipated himself from the French. He transposed the French influence into the American space, the American feeling. Today, his paintings are a concentrate of the dreams and visions conjured up by the fabulous name of America.Edward Hopper – Grand Palais – From 10 October 2012 – 28 January 2013 – FINISHED BY NOW!