Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Edward Hopper Exhibition – Grand Palais, Paris

Edward Hopper – Grand Palais – 10 October 2012 to 28 January 2013

The Grand Palais in Paris is putting on an incredible show of one of America’s most famous 20th century artists: Edward Hopper. An in depth expose of his work and his ideals with a new emphasis on the European themes that so strongly influenced his work can be seen. The emotional intensity of his vision charges through his art and gives it a unique and dynamic quality. Moreover the exhibition also ambitiously displays alongside Hopper’s works many illustrious and beautiful Impressionist paintings by the likes of artists such as Manet, Degas and Pissarro.

Edward Hopper was born in 1882 and until he was 42 he earned his living as an advertising illustrator. Hopper visited Paris three times in his lifetime – in 1906, 1909 and 1910- and he became an avid Francophile, enchanted especially by Paris and its cafes and boulevards and by the French scene. He learnt to adopt Impressionist techniques in his work and he particularly liked three artists: Albert Marquet, Vermeer and Degas, whose influences can be seen in his work. We see in the exhibition three paintings by Marquet, all of which figure views of bridges with muted colours, clever perspectives and fluid objects. In Vermeer, Hopper admired his clever use of light – something that became an essential element of Hopper’s own work. It is not until about half way through the exhibition that we start to see Hopper’s paintings - before this are the European paintings that so influenced him. In ‘American Style’, definitely one of my favourite Hopper paintings we see how a house rises out of the middle of nowhere, uprooted from the ground by a track. There are no human people in the picture and there is a uniform blue background which helps to create its eerie atmosphere, suffused with an out of this world stillness. Hopper excelled at the geometry of landscape, seen for example in his painting ‘Lighthouse Hill, painted in 1927. His use of light, inspired by Vermeer cries out to his audience.

Hopper lived a quiet life with his wife Josephine who was his only muse and figures in almost all of his paintings with people. His masterpiece ‘Nighthawks’, (1942) probably his best known painting, is an eloquent account of man’s alienation from his surroundings. The only light in the deserted street is the artificial light of the bar, where we see a spartan interior through a medium of glass window panes. It is a paranomic view where the strong lines and colours only emphasize the impression of alienation and a hostile city. In it is a half interior view of a café which has 3 sombre customers. It is a sterile place – somewhere where people go that have nowhere else to go. The banality of life, specifically modern life, is portrayed. We see how he combined his central subjects so deftly in his art- the isolation of modern urban man, the harmony that nature gives to man and the impact of European art on his perspective. He became known in the latter half of the twentieth century as the painter of light.

Hopper was not a prolific artist and only produced about 100 paintings in his lifetime : most of which, amazingly, figure in this collection of his works.He was one of the first major American artists of the twentieth century to entertain an international reputation. And the Grand Palais does justice to this reputation and to his mastery of his subject. It is well worth a visit.

The exhibition should not be missed, by Larissa Woolf, Arts Editor,

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