Edward Hopper: Get To Know The King Of American Realism In 15 Facts

Edward Hopper is one of the most recognizable American Realists of the 20th century. His artwork highlighted the less addressed ways of life in America: individualistic and alienated.

Sep 13, 2020By Heidi Vance, BFA Studio Art w/ minor in Art History
edward hopper hotel room nighthawks
Hotel Room by Edward Hopper, 1931, via Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (left); with Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942, via The Art Institute of Chicago (right)


Edward Hopper is best known for his scenes depicting isolation and banal situations. His work highlights the individualistic side of American society, addressing isolation, solitude, and American alienation. Read more for a look at Edward Hopper’s paintings and facts about his life. 


Edward Hopper’s Biography

Edward Hopper, New York artist by Harris & Ewing, 1937, via Library of Congress, Washington D.C.


Edward Hopper was an American artist born in 1882 in the small town of Nyack, roughly forty minutes north of New York City. He had a comfortable life growing up and received encouragement from his parents to pursue the creative field as a career. He attended the New York School of Art and Design where he studied for six years. He was frequently inspired by his professor Robert Henri. He initially struggled with making well-received work, having to take up other occupations to get by. His work began to gain traction when he married his wife, Josephine. Hopper died on May 15, 1967, in his studio in Washington Square in New York City. Like many artists, his work was more celebrated after his death than during his life, despite his relative success. His work can be found in many major museum collections in the United States.


Edward Hopper’s Paintings Exemplify Social Distancing

Morning Sun by Edward Hopper, 1952, via Columbus Museum of Art


Edward Hopper’s paintings examine and addresses the relationship between environments and the human figure (or lack thereof). Many times, his compositions feature only one person. Hopper’s paintings highlight themes of isolation and loneliness. In their time, these works were successful at depicting the emotions of Americans during both the World Wars and the Great Depression. In recent times, his work has received more popularity as it emulates living in a COVID-19 world, full of self-isolation, social distancing, and being alone. Some argue that this is not the case; that Hopper’s paintings show people who choose to be alone, rather than those who must be alone. However, the sense of loneliness and alienation within his works is undeniable.  His paintings represent introversion and solitude, exposing the scenes of the everyday life of lonely individuals. Even in his compositions featuring multiple people, he somehow managed to demonstrate that at the end of the day we are all alone. 


He Began Creating Art At A Young Age

Study for Office at Night by Edward Hopper, 1940, via Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


Get the latest articles delivered to your inbox

Sign up to our Free Weekly Newsletter

Edward Hopper is expressed interest in art as a career early on in life. At five, he showed a talent for drawing. He completed his first signed drawing when he was just ten years old. His parents encouraged his interest in art, providing him with materials and instructional books. Throughout childhood he made art, normally practicing his skills with still lives and geometrical drawings. During his adolescence, he worked in a variety of materials including watercolor, oil paints, charcoal, and ink. He created his first signed oil painting, Rowboat in Rocky Cove, in 1895 when he was only 13 years old. 


He Was Also Interested In Architecture

Rooms for Tourists by Edward Hopper, 1945, via Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven


Hopper’s interest in architecture began at an early age, much like his interests in art. When he was a teenager, he expressed interest in becoming a naval architect. Although he never pursued the career of architecture, his interests in it are evident within his works. His works of buildings tell a similar tale to his paintings where humans are present. These structures become a kind of portraiture with an unseen human presence. The dialogue between the atmosphere and the architecture mirror Hopper’s dialogues between humans and the environments they occupy. The underlying theme of Hopper’s work is the interconnectivity between each element within his paintings. His focus on architecture allowed him to improve upon manipulating environments to their fullest potential in terms of establishing an ambiance. 


He Began Working As A Commercial Illustrator

Girl at a Sewing Machine by Edward Hopper, 1921, via Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid


Edward Hopper began his artistic career as a part-time commercial illustrator. During this time, he created covers for trade magazines. Working as a commercial illustrator was not fulfilling for Hopper. However, this was his only source of income. He found the work “creatively stifling.” Eventually, he chose to quit his job as an illustrator, deciding to work as a practicing artist. This transitional time in Edward Hopper’s life was spent traveling across Europe and studying at the New York School of Art and Design. His time in Europe allowed him to draw inspiration from a variety of sources which would later become essential to his creative process and paintings. Studying at the New York School of Art and Design provided opportunities to cultivate his craft and led to him meeting his muse and future wife. 


Inspiration In French Art

Soir Bleu by Edward Hopper, 1914, via Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


Like many American artists, Edward Hopper found inspiration from European art, and more specifically French art. From 1906 to 1910, Hopper traveled to Europe three times, spending the majority of his time in France. While there, he continued to develop his artistic skills, focusing primarily on landscapes. After 1910, he never returned to France. Instead of attending an academy, Hopper visited museums, observing the work of Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh and Camille Pissarro. His observations allowed him to advance his art; he was able to expand his color palette and effectively depict light. While Hopper is an American Realist, it is undeniable that his work reflects the Impressionist movement that occurred just one century earlier.


He Had Only One Partner

Chop Suey by Edward Hopper, 1929, Private Collection, via Christie’s


Unlike many 20th century artists, Edward Hopper had one lifelong partner. Hopper’s wife, Josephine Verstille Nivison “Jo” Hopper, was also an artist. Although interest in her art and her career waned in the 1920s, she continued to create works up until her death. She spent much of her time chronicling her life in diaries. The pair met while studying art. In 1924, the two married. Unfortunately, Hopper’s career and work dominated Josephine’s, much like he did to her. Their relationship was anything but ideal. Hopper was incredibly abusive and obsessive. Josephine died shortly after her husband of 43 years. She donated both her husband’s and her artwork to the Whitney Museum in New York City. While the Whitney kept Edward’s work, they disposed of nearly all of Josephine’s art. 


Josephine Was A Primary Models For Hopper’s Paintings

Eleven A.M. by Edward Hopper, 1926, via The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington D.C.


Josephine Hopper became Edward’s lifelong muse. She was the primary female model for his paintings. Their turbulent and often violent relationship was a catalyst in Hopper’s work. The pair worked within the same studio, rarely having the time to escape one another. Josephine helped Edward become the artist he is now viewed as by introducing him to the beauty of watercolors. Her contributions did not end at modeling or suggesting watercolor. She would goad his competitive spirit by starting a work, which would inspire Edward to start one. Josephine was also Edward’s recordkeeper. In addition to writing her diaries, she maintained extensive documentation of Edward’s art. It is undeniable that without Josephine, there would be no Edward Hopper as we see him today. His posthumous success is also attributed to her. In 2018, his painting Chop Suey, inspired by their courtship, sold for nearly 92 million dollars.


He Sold His First Painting For $250

Sailing by Edward Hopper, 1911, via Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh


Edward Hopper was one of many artists who initially struggled with selling his art. At 30 years old, Sailing was the first of Edward Hopper’s paintings to ever sell. This painting was in New York’s Armory Show in 1913. The Armory Show is one of the most impactful exhibitions in the United States, as it sought to highlight modern art in America. Sailing sold for roughly $250, which is around $6,543 today. The painting was sold to Thomas F. Vietor, a merchant from New Jersey. Sailing is currently in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s permanent collection, along with sixteen other works by Hopper.


Edward Hopper’s Art Became Popular Later In His Life

People in the Sun by Edward Hopper, 1960, via Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.


Although Hopper began creating art at a young age, he struggled in finding early success. As previously mentioned, he did not sell his first painting until he was in his 30s. Josephine attributed to his success as an artist beyond being his muse. By the time she began dating Hopper, she already had become an accomplished and successful artist. She used her ties to curators in New York to fit his work into her group exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. This favor would eventually lead to the success of Edward Hopper as an artist. Hopper finally received reviews from art critics, who adored his work. In 1931, his career continued to climb as he earned thousands of dollars per piece of his work. He continued to rise in popularity, despite a shift in artistic tastes, up until he died in 1967. 


He Had No Pupils

Summer Interior by Edward Hopper, 1909, via Whitney Museum of American Art, New York


Edward Hopper spent the majority of his time holed up in his studio. Between painting and fighting with his wife, he had little time available to pass his craft onto others, especially since he had no offspring. However, Hopper’s legacy carried on through those who find inspiration within his work. Edward Hopper’s paintings and drawings left a lasting impression on the genre of American Realism and depicting everyday life. His works still hold significance today, inspiring contemporary artists whose work expands upon the themes present within his work. 


His Interest In Film And Cinema Influenced His Work

Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper, 1950, via Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. 


Edward Hopper’s paintings emulate a kind of cinematic quality that many can appreciate. He was very interested in film and cinema and was considered a lifelong fan of both. Going to the movies was one of the few things Hopper was willing to splurge on, as he was generally viewed as frugal. During his more inactive periods, he said, “I wish I could paint more. I get sick of reading and going to the movies.” In turn, his interest in cinema inadvertently led the way to cinema directors being influenced by his work. 


Edward Hopper’s Paintings Inspired Alfred Hitchcock

House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper, 1925, via MoMA, New York (left); with Still from Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, 1960 (right)


Alfred Hitchcock was a 20th-century film director, often called the “Master of Suspense.” Hitchcock is best known for his iconic movies that rely on instilling anxiety and fear in its viewers. The home of Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho was directly modeled after Hopper’s House by the Railroad. Unsurprisingly, Hopper’s paintings were inspiring to multiple filmmakers. Hopper’s work often reflected cinema and film noir, making his style an obvious choice for inspiration. 


His Works Also Inspired Contemporary Photographers

Untitled-October 1998 by Hannah Starkey, 1998, via Maureen Paley Gallery, London


Many list the work of Edward Hopper as a source of inspiration within the realm of contemporary art. Unsurprisingly, contemporary photographers often cite Edward Hopper as inspiration for compositions and lighting. Photography as an art form receives a great deal of criticism when compared to more traditional ways of image-making. Because of this, artists working with photography have created a variety of techniques that aim to validate the efforts of contemporary photography as art. Hopper’s work revolves around the creation of atmosphere and environments, and the presence (or lack thereof) the human figure. His work focuses on similar concepts present within photography, including the psychological depth of an image. Hopper’s use of highlighting the relationship between subjects within an image laid the groundwork for contemporary photography’s exploration of this same relationship


He Found Success As An Artist During The Great Depression

Automat by Edward Hopper, 1927, via Des Moines Art Center


The Great Depression spanned roughly 10 years in the United States, beginning in 1929. During this time, the United States economy and society suffered drastically. High unemployment, homelessness, and high suicide rates are all characteristics of the Great Depression. The sector of art greatly suffered; many viewed art as a non-essential expense that most could not afford. However, this time of distress inspired Hopper. His work included scenes of solemn, isolated individuals. Hopper’s painting emphasized the emotional toll on many Americans. The Great Depression also led to a new kind of opportunity for artists, coined the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which employed artists to make public works through federal funding. This allowed for art to be a more accessible and necessary resource that provided inspiration and hope. In turn, art became a valuable asset whose value would span beyond the end of the Depression. For Hopper and other artists alike, this new outlook became a meal ticket that led to many 20th-century artists’ successes. 


His Work Helped Build MoMA’s Collection

House by the Railroad by Edward Hopper, 1925, via MoMA, New York


As previously mentioned, Edward Hopper’s career did not begin to be successful until the late 1920s. Although he had shown his work, he struggled to sell his paintings. In 1929, the Museum of Modern Art’s (MoMA)  featured Hopper’s House by the Railroad in the Paintings by 19 Living Americans exhibition. This exhibition was the first of the MoMA’s to feature exclusively American art. The MoMA’s conception was in 1928 and was one of the first museums in the United States dedicated solely to modern art. In 1930, Stephen C. Clark (an art collector) donated Hopper’s House by the Railroad to the MoMA. House by the Railroad was the first American work within the collection.


He Is Not Viewed As A Prolific Artist

Night Windows by Edward Hopper, 1928, via MoMA, New York


Determining an artist’s prolificity is difficult because of the variables involved. There is the overall production during their lifetime, how long they were an artist, and how long they lived. Despite making somewhere around 800 works, many do not consider him to be prolific. In fact, he only painted somewhere around 366 paintings. Edward Hopper began painting at an early age and continued to make art throughout his life, but it was a time-consuming process. Forming ideas for new works did not come to him easily; he often made multiple drafts of ideas before even beginning to paint. Nearing the end of his life, his output continued to decline. In his 70s, he only created around 5 paintings per year. 


Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks Was Seminal In Defining Modernism

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942, via The Art Institute of Chicago


Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks is one of his most popular and recognized paintings. According to Josephine Hopper’s documentation of Nighthawks, Hopper completed the work just weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Undeniably, this pivotal event in US history became commonly associated with the painting. It highlights the feelings of wartime alienation. Before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was not directly involved in World War II. This work walks the line between the Modernist movement and the American Realism movement. It addresses the coldness of isolation and the impact that isolation has. One of the reasons Hopper earned his success during the Great Depression and World War II was that his work became relatable to Americans. This was a time of distress and impending doom.  The feelings that carried over from World War II led to the rise of Abstract Expressionism, Cubism, and more as attempts to rationalize and contemplate the brutality of war. 

Author Image

By Heidi VanceBFA Studio Art w/ minor in Art HistoryHeidi Vance is a contributing writer to TheCollector, a practicing studio artist, and an emerging art conservation professional. She obtained her BFA in Studio Art and a minor in Art History from the University of Central Florida and will be pursuing her MA in Conservation of Fine Art at Northumbria University in Fall 2020.