The American way of life as seen by Edward HOPPER.
The American way of life as seen by Edward HOPPER.

The American way of life as seen by Edward HOPPER.

Deeply inspired by the American way of life in the 20th century, Edward Hopper reinterpreted the lives of his fellow Americans in scenes as mysterious as they were innocuous. The father of the immense Nighthawks, he leaves behind an unprecedented pictorial legacy and a considerable influence on the cinema.


                                                                                                     Self-portrait, 1903

Born in New York in 1882, Edward Hopper was an American painter with a keen interest in depicting urban scenes.
Initially an illustrator, he became interested in painting by frequenting the painters of the Ash Can school, a realist movement inspired by New York’s slums.
Hopper then travelled to Europe three times. He was influenced by Edgar Degas and Edouard Monet, even though their styles were quite different. The American painter drew his inspiration from ordinary places, from which he brought out the extraordinary.


                                                                                         House by the railway, 1925

In 1924, Hopper decided to devote himself exclusively to painting. He met his future wife Joséphine Verstille Nivison, known as Jo, at a course he was taking. She played a key role in his work, regularly posing for his canvases.
Edward Hopper set up his studio in New York. He was soon recognised as one of the leading exponents of the American scene.
He depicted the daily lives of his compatriots. His paintings mainly reflect the nostalgia of a bygone America, against a backdrop of internal conflict between the characters portrayed and the place in which they found themselves.

                                                                                                    Automaton, 1927

“It wasn’t the people I wanted to paint. What I wanted to paint was the sunbeam on the side of the house”, Edward Hopper (1882-1967) once said. And what his three stays in Paris, at a time when Picasso was painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, brought him was the revelation of Impressionism and the treatment of light. Light is the existential condition of his work, and it is light that makes the landscape perceptible, in its variations but also in its spatiality. In Hopper’s work, the landscape, whether of cities, the rocky shores of Cape Cod or the roads of the American provinces, always seems to us the portrait of an irreducible solitude in the multitude.
Is this really the dimension he wanted to bring to his canvases, as he often said, “What I’m trying to paint is myself”?


                                                                                                   Shop suey, 1929

                                                                                      Early on a Sunday morning in 1930

Theatrical staging.
Hopper’s eye manages to capture the right scene, the right emotion at the right moment. Those who look at his paintings are not just spectators, but voyeurs whose curiosity interferes with the calm of the moment. It’s a disturbing vision, sublimated by the artist’s photographic and cinematographic touch. As if we were watching an American pollster, a detective story, all the scenes are charged with a mystery that is unique to Hopper.

                                                                                                   The Long Leg, 1930


                                                                                           A room in New York, 1932

Uninvited, we observe these busy, often preoccupied people.
The play of light is clear and the interest lies not so much in the expression on the faces as in the posture, the spacing between the bodies and the striking contrasts that catch the eye.


                                                                                                    Compartment, 1938


                                                                                        Cinema in New York, 1939

Ordinary places become extraordinary in the way Hopper depicts them: the geometry of the furniture, the cast shadows, the presence or absence of human figures, or the more or less glaring luminosity.
He makes these places real stages in the understanding of his work.


                                                                                          Night at the Office, 1940

These characters are potentially all of us, unlabelled, anonymous and in a false intimacy.
In the heart of a city, in front of shops, cafés, diners or indoors, Hopper invites us to contemplate.
Shadows play an important role, as does the way he works with light and his interest in architecture.


                                                                                                 Gas station, 1940


Hopper was not particularly keen on large architectural structures, skyscrapers or other large buildings, but focused more on houses, the innocuous buildings that surround us and to which we do not necessarily always pay attention. Not forgetting an office still lit in the evening, the corner of a room or a petrol station.

                                                                                            Nighthawks, 1942

Transparency is Hopper’s trademark. With the regular presence of windows, he emphasised perspective and depth, from the inside out and vice versa.
Nighthawks is still hugely popular today. This painting alone sums up the complexity of Hopper’s work. Outside and inside seem to merge in a fascinating play of light, even if the figures are not ultra-detailed.
Hopper’s work is tormented on the inside. Everything seems too calm, too silent, and it is this torpor that gives rise to anxiety. What will happen next? Is the scene depicted a harbinger of tragedy?



                                                                         Illustration for “American Locomotive Co.”, 1944


                                                                                            View over the sea, 1951

So it’s hardly surprising that Edward Hopper has inspired the world of cinema. For many, he paved the way for a melancholy, disillusioned vision, playing on form to make the background more charged.
Hopper’s world is open to interpretation. What do you see when you immerse yourself in these scenes triangulated by absence, minimalism or the enigmatic posture of the characters? Each atmosphere reveals silent images of the desires, frustration and solitude of an American in his or her everyday life.


                                                The summer will last a long time, Jean paul Hamery et Hopper, Summertime, 1943                          

We lived in brightness
without knowing that the light
also gives up.
We didn’t know that the moment would come
when the lamps would go out
and with them would go
a little of our blood.

Yes, it was morning
for a long time.
Then darkness annexed
all the land.

We never knew what paths
had thrown us here
facing the untouched walls
of the night.

Cette autre rive (L’Obscur) © Éditions Folle Avoine 1988

                                                                                                    Automaton, 1927 

To love, you have to know how to wait…


Solitude, do you know why I love you?
Solitude, do you know why I wait for you?
Loneliness, do you know why I hope for you?
Solitude, do you know why I learned you?

In you I find refuge from the foreign gaze,
In you I find silence in the face of the inexplicable,
In you I find peace in the face of exhaustion,
In you, I find the person I have become.

With you, I have travelled unknown paths,
With you, I’ve travelled through hope and despair,
With you, I’ve travelled through life and suffering,
With you, I’ve learned to relearn everything.

So, Solitude, when you let go of my hand,
And a new hand reaches out,
Then, Solitude, my heart will often return,
Because to love, you have to know how to wait.

Elisabeth Lafont

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