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Cape Cod Afternoon

Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)


Medium oil on canvas Measurements H: 34 x W: 50 in. (86.4 x 127 cm) Credit Patrons Art Fund Accession Number 38.2 Location Not on View


Edward Hopper's work has made him one of the most respected American painters of the twentieth century. His stark depictions of isolated buildings, silent interiors, and empty streets show both a desire to record the details of ordinary life and a Modernist's appreciation for the power of abstract form. His work is distinguished by its structural clarity and subtle psychological edge. This deceptively simple view of a shed, barn, and house in South Truro, Massachusetts, acts powerfully on the emotions. At first, the bright sunshine, brilliant colors, and pastoral setting evoke the celebratory New England landscapes painted by preceding generations of American Realists and Impressionists. The painting recalls hot, clear summer afternoons and the exhilarating expanses of sky and land found along the rugged New England coast. In this respect, Hopper's work resembles that of the American landscape painters Winslow Homer and Childe Hassam. However, it is impossible to find in Cape Cod Afternoon the heroic optimism of nineteenth-century artists. The afternoon shadows are lengthening, the shed is crumbling, the house is shuttered, and the grass and trees are turning brown. While the wedge shaped diagonals of the composition seem to invite entry into the pictorial space, a jumble of walls and the blanked-out windows and doors block any such entry. All of these elements suggest decay and abandonment, even disappointed hope. Hopper painted Cape Cod Afternoon in 1936, during the Great Depression in America and the beginnings of war in Europe. In the end, the grimness of the decade and the artist's personal sense of solitude and detachment prevail, leaving the viewer with that sense of alienated melancholy so characteristic of Hopper's work. —From The Carnegie Museum of Art Collection Highlights, text by Louise Lippincott, 1995

Artist Bio

Although he was always hostile to the development of abstract painting, Edward Hopper's art gives forth a distinctly modern feeling. In 1967, shortly after Hopper's death, James Thrall Soby commented that many of his (Soby's) friends among the Abstract Expressionist painters genuinely admired Hopper's work. "It always astonished me," Soby noted, "that these young artists exempted the late Edward Hopper from their acrimony against the realist tradition." In fact, the mood of loneliness and alienation in Hopper's paintings harmonizes well with the existentialist philosophies of this century, while his compositions always went beyond mere realistic transcription to establish patterns and relationships of abstract form.

Hopper achieved success in watercolor at a time when his oil paintings were still being rejected from exhibitions. He took up the medium in 1923, not having used it seriously since his student days, except in his commercial work, and made a large group of watercolors of old buildings and lighthouses in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and in Portland and Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Late in 1923 The Brooklyn Museum purchased his House with Mansard Roof, the first painting he had sold since the Armory Show. In the following year he was taken up by the New York dealer Frank Rehn, who sold every watercolor on the wall, and five more as well, from the first show he put on of Hopper's work.