Hoppers in Conversation

March 3, 2016 - April 10, 2016

For a limited time, the Norton is featuring a special work on loan: Edward Hopper’s 1956 masterpiece Four Lane Road. This oil painting is installed alongside August in the City, the Museum’s 1945 painting by the artist. These works, on view together through April 3, illuminate Hopper’s distinctive view of modern America, which still makes his work compelling today.

August in the City and Four Lane Road both date from the later part of the artist’s career when he was widely acknowledged as one of America’s leading artists. The two paintings depict very different locales: August in the City portrays New York City, while Four Lane Road pictures Cape Cod. These are two of the places Hopper knew the best – he lived in New York for most of his adult years and summered in Cape Cod almost every year from 1930 until his death in 1967. Like many New Yorkers, Hopper went to Cape Cod to exchange the city’s crowds and heat for the quiet beauty of the coast. Yet his views of New York and Cape Cod in August in the City and Four Lane Road challenge this conventional understanding of these two places.

These paintings share a compositional element that Hopper experimented with frequently: a building with windows through which intriguing people and furnishings can be seen. In both these works, this structure contrasts with a wooded landscape at left. Indeed, the similarity of the two compositions causes the viewer to question the usual view of New York and Cape Cod as unalike. Furthermore, unlike other modernist paintings of New York that celebrate the city’s new soaring skyscrapers, August in the City depicts a small section of an apartment building’s corner turret, which has historical details that complicate the city’s reputation as archetypally modern. The perspective looking over to Riverside Park also makes this urban scene seem almost rural. The painting’s sense of tranquility is heightened by Hopper’s decision to replace the woman he often depicted in such windows with a statue. The painting thus conveys the city’s own quiet beauty in August, when so many residents had left for the countryside.

            Four Lane Road likewise depicts a Cape Cod that differs from the typical understanding of this vacation spot. Instead of portraying the area’s beautiful shoreline, Hopper painted a modern gas station on a highway, with a woman leaning out to speak to a man seated outside. In the record book he kept of his paintings, Hopper wrote that the woman finds the man’s “serenity a trial,” and he conveys her annoyance by capturing her face in the act of haranguing him. Consequently, this Cape Cod scene is both louder and more obviously modern than New York is in August in the City.

In both August in the City and Four Lane Road, Hopper upset his viewers’ expectations of his subject, causing them to look at it anew. Such innovative viewpoints were typical of Hopper’s mature work. By choosing such perspectives, Hopper conveyed the complexity and contradictions of the modern American experience.