I was delighted to read that Grayson Perry was giving the Reith Lectures as I posted yesterday. On opening the Seven section of the Sunday Torygraph, I thought it was going to be a double celebration with an exhibition of Edward Hopper’s work. On closer reading, however, it was only a new book.
Having said that, though, it seems an interesting book, if a little expensive at £39.95. It is called “Edward Hopper: Paintings and Ledger Book Drawings” by Adam D Weinberg. The article by Alistair Smart explained the ‘ledger books’ part of the title:
“The past century is littered with the turbulent relationships of artist couples: Picasso and Dora Maar, Pollock and Lee Krasner, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo …. It’s often been hard to tell where support ends and competition begins. As interesting as any pairing – if less famous – were Edward Hopper and his headstrong wife, Jo. Both had studied at the New York School of Art, and before their marriage in 1924, it was she who was the more famous. Soon, however, his eerie scenes of isolated people and buildings were a huge success – visions of motels, gas stations and late-night cafeterias that seemed to epitomise modern-day America – and she duly subordinated her career to his.
“For the rest of his life, Jo oversaw their collaboration on a set of ledger books containing small sketches (by him) of each canvas he painted and comments (by her) about the work itself, accompanied by details of its purchase and purchaser. In many ways, these ledgers – selected pages of which are reproduced for the first time alongside the paintings themselves, in a new book – were meant simply as inventories. Yet, they’re also much more: offering insight into many of Edward’s mysterious scenes, as well as a window onto the Hoppers’ fraught but enduring marriage.
Nighthawks, 1942, is probably Hopper’s most famous painting. In the sketch, the densely drawn pen-and-ink lines of the street outside increases our focus on the bright sliver of diner-wall inside.
“Jo, for instance, tells us that the woman in 1932’s Hotel Room, who I’ve always felt was receiving a letter of bad news, is actually reading a timetable. Sometimes, she delights in her husband’s work (Of the Cape Cod backdrop to Mrs Scott’s House, she writes “Hills roll for dear life … Glorious!”). At other times she’s critical: “Too much lipstick,” she says of the secretary in Office at Night.
“Before death took them both in the late Sixties, the couple spent many decades cooped up in a flat overlooking New York’s Washington Square. Marital tensions were revealed in Jo’s diaries, with tales of two-way domestic violence, yet the ledgers in the main reveal warmth: her cataloguing his oeuvre with brio and care. Final word, though, must go to Hopper’s drawings. He relies on his background as an etcher, using cross-hatches and inking to expressive effect. All were created after the paintings to which they refer. But rather than dashed-off afterthoughts, there’s a sense of Hopper revelling in return, part perhaps of the gradual disengagement that this slow, meticulous painter needed from his creations.”
According to Jo’s notes for Cape Cod Morning 1950, this scene is of a ‘blondish housewife appraising the early AM weather’. Hopper, though, saw things less literally, insisting ‘For me, she’s just looking out the window’.