On the rare occasions when I go somewhere by train, the minute we set off, I whip out my book and read. Cars, buses, coaches, small boats are a no-no for reading for me – instant headache, but trains and planes are fine.
Edward Hopper is one of my favourite artists. I love the way he does white light, and I particularly love the stories in his paintings, although some of his women tend to have over-strong features. I stumbled across the first of these two paintings in A Booklover’s Companion from Folio books, and thought I’d share it with you – then I remembered another Hopper painting of a woman reading on a train – so you have two to contemplate below…
The 1965 Hopper painting, Chair Car, sold for a record-breaking $14 million at Christie’s to a private buyer in 2005. It’s a strange-looking train car – so tall! The statuesque woman is totally engrossed in what she’s reading, her position doesn’t look comfortable. Has she turned away from the windows deliberately to avoid the distraction of the landscape passing by, to get better light on the page, or just not to get the sun in her eyes? Do you think she knows the guy on the other side is looking at her? So many questions!
The 1938 painting Compartment C Car is, by contrast, a scene that raises fewer questions, the reader seems relaxed, but is why a young woman travelling alone at night on a (tall) train? Interestingly, this painting is fairly small at 20 x 18 inches, a size which suits the subject.
I remember seeing my first Hopper at the Boston Fine Arts Museum, and was smitten. On my next visit to the USA we went to MOMO in NYC, and there was the iconic Gas (1940), which you can buy as a giant print in IKEA! In reality it’s another small painting, but I love its welcoming sinisterness. This was followed by another US vacation – Chicago this time and his most famous work in the Art Institute – Nighthawks – a must for fans of Tom Waits.
Sadly, there are no Hopper works on public display in British galleries, but I was lucky enough to go to the 2004 exhibition at the Tate Modern which was amazing, and only cemented him in my mind as perhaps my favourite artist.
Hope you enjoyed this little arty diversion. Are you a Hopper fan? I’d love to hear what you think about the interior life of these paintings?
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Hopper (Basic Art Album) by Rolf G Renner, from the art publisher Taschen, provides a great introduction if you’re interested in exploring more about this artist.