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Edward Hopper

Evening Wind, 1921
Etching on Umbria paper

6 7/8" x 8 1/4”

Museum purchase, 1972

 

“After I took up etching, my painting seemed to crystalize.”
~ Edward Hopper

 

The early 1920s found Edward Hopper, then in his late 30s and early 40s, looking around at his more successful artist friends Martin Lewis, George Bellows, Rockwell Kent and John Sloan (all held by the WFMA) wondering why their careers were beginning to take off while his wasn’t. Like several of his colleagues who became loosely known as the Social Realists, Hopper had to begrudgingly support himself as an illustrator for trade magazines while struggling to find his artistic voice, which at the time was steeped in the French Impressionism style he picked up while visiting Paris. 

In 1915, with the help of Martin Lewis, Hopper turned to etching to try to reach a broader art buying audience and supplement his meager freelance illustrating income. It turned out that was just what the aesthetic doctor ordered. Less than a decade later Hopper stepped away from the print medium to focus on painting, with some seventy etchings (and a handful of awards) under his belt. Many of these prints presaged both his stripped-down painterly style and the tropes and themes he would turn to again and again throughout his career—solitude, window gazing, the boredom of waiting, the tension between interior and exterior spaces, and the play of light and shadow. 

Evening Wind is one of only four etchings made by Hopper in 1921, all of which feature solitary figures: two lone passengers riding an elevated train, one peering out the window at the passing tenements (House Tops); a man reading a newspaper under the glow of a streetlight (Night in Park); and perhaps the most Hopperesque of his etchings, a lone man walking down a deserted city street during the wee hours as viewed above from an upstairs office or apartment window (Night Shadows).

Evening Wind is similar in theme and layout to the earlier etching The Open Window (1915-1918), which depicts a solitary nude woman seated, hunched back to the viewer, on her bedside by an open window with the curtains blowing in. We see this same theme in two later oil paintings as well: Eleven A.M. (1926) and Morning in City (1944). 

One thing that differentiates Hopper’s urban depictions from those of his fellow New York artists of the day is that he presents his figures in the midst of some mundane act, whereas his friends Bellows and Sloan, both associated with the Ashcan School of painters, depicted moments of action. Theirs is artwork socially and politically charged, whereas Hopper’s is about the lone individual in moments of silence, contemplation, or waiting. Likewise, Hopper’s nudes (always women) are never erotic, perhaps speaking back to his conservative religious upbringing. Indeed, they often appear so blank in their expressions that it is hard to refrain ourselves from attributing some kind of internal monologue to better understand what appear to be moments of psychological vulnerability frozen in time. So many of his characters appear to just be simply staring into space.

Although (or perhaps because) Hopper had a keen eye for observing humanity and urban life, he seems to have intentionally left the meanings (and titles) of his paintings and etchings vague. A work like Evening Wind, for example, leaves more questions than it answers. What do we see when we look at the etching for the first (and five-hundredth) time? Well, not much. A nude woman getting into or out of bed in a cramped room which we can assume is in a small low rent New York apartment. We know from the title that it is evening—we can also see that it is not dark out yet (or the outside streetlights are incredibly bright). Has she just heard something outside that has awakened her curiosity? Can anyone see into her window? Is she alone in the room? What are we as the viewer doing there? Etc.

On the dresser behind her we see a white pitcher and wash basin. To the left of those, there appears to be the edge of a clock with a pitched roof-like top sitting directly under what is surely a framed mirror hanging on the wall. To the right, partially obscured behind the billowy curtain, we can just make out what is much more evident in the preparatory drawing for Evening Wind Hopper sketched in 1921 before making the etching—a second frame on the wall.

Whatever you search for in the artwork—whether images or themes or both—you can’t get around the fact that the moment captured so gracefully by Hopper is also so darned innocuous: we’re not looking at a depiction of the impoverished masses overshadowed by the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan as seen in many of the Social Realist artworks being composed by his friends, nor a portrait some millionaires in her Fifth Avenue brownstone. What we are looking at is a nude woman peering out her window at bedtime. Perhaps a gust of wind has surprised her moments before a downpour; or perhaps she’s heard someone shouting outside, or maybe she is getting out of bed to work a nightshift. We just don’t know.

What we do know is that there is something very aesthetically intriguing about this etching—whether it’s Hopper’s mastery of light and shadow as depicted by his use of minute cross-hatching, or the subtly curvilinear flow of the lines of the curtain and the woman’s back working together to lead our eyes from the top right corner of the etching to its center where the woman is firmly, if only temporarily, rooted.

It’s the fluency of Hopper’s etched line that allows him to capture intimate moments that still hold our attention today, no matter how commonplace. It’s more than that though; there’s something intriguing, perhaps even poignantly sad about the aloneness of his subjects, especially those rooted in a city teaming with millions of other solitary people.   

 


Works Consulted

Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: The Complete Prints. Norton, 1979.

Schrader, Stephanie et al. True Grit: American Prints from 1900-1950. J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2019.

Souter, Gerry. Edward Hopper: Light and Dark. Parkstone Press International, 2007.


Evening Wind from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas

 
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