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Edward Hopper (1882-1967), best known for his paintings that capture moments of reverie and contemplation, was also highly accomplished as a printmaker. This exhibition traces the evolution in his prints of many of the signature subjects of the artist’s mature style, such as the isolated figure by a window and other intimate glimpses of contemporary American life.
Hopper taught himself how to make etchings in New York City in 1915. For the next ten years, he devoted much of his attention to printmaking before concentrating fully on painting in the mid-1920s. The selection of some fifty works covers this crucial decade in the artist’s creative development. In addition to illustrating the step-by-step process of executing a print, from the preparatory drawing on paper through as many as eight separate revisions on the copper plate, the exhibition reveals the unfolding development of Hopper’s personal artistic vocabulary and vision. The works are drawn from the Museum’s own collections, which constitute one of the most complete holdings of Hopper’s prints.
Hopper grew up in Nyack, New York, a small town on the Hudson River. After graduating from high school, the budding artist embarked on a profitable career as a commercial illustrator in Manhattan, studying at the New York School of Art under Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller, and supplying illustrations for Scribner’s, Adventure, and other popular magazines.
Making etchings offered Hopper an escape from the commercial work that earned him his living, and it was as a printmaker that he won his first successes as a fine artist. At the core of Hopper’s output as an etcher are twenty-six published prints, all in the Museum’s collection, many of them accompanied by sets of progressive proofs that document the artist’s working method.
Hopper’s distinctive style emerges in Night on the El Train (1918), an intimate scene of a couple lost in conversation. A solitary figure gazing out a window appears in Evening Wind and House Tops of 1921 and East Side Interior of 1922. In nocturnal scenes, including Night in the Park (1921), Hopper takes full advantage of the intense contrast of light and shadow that can be achieved with etching by printing with dark ink on white paper. The bright, shadow-casting light of later paintings such as Nighthawks (1940; The Art Institute of Chicago) is already evident in Night Shadows, an etching of 1921.
Selected from the comprehensive collection of Hopper’s prints assembled in 1962 by Carl Zigrosser, the Museum’s first Curator of Prints, this exhibition offers penetrating insight into the heart and mind of one of the most admired American artists of the twentieth century.