The Walker's Edward Hopper exhibition explores how a painting comes to be

Sketch of <i>Morning Sun</i> by Edward Hopper 

Sketch of Morning Sun by Edward Hopper 

There's a drawing in the new Edward Hopper exhibition at the Walker Art Center that depicts the artist's wife sitting on a bed. On the drawing, there are scribbled notes Hopper wrote to himself about how he wanted to improve the image for the eventual painting. "Warm shadows in ear," he writes, and "cool gray," with an arrow pointed at the figure's calf. "Pink toes," says another note, and "legs cooler than arms." It kind of looks like one of those marked-up magazine photos before the Photoshop treatment, as Hopper notes how to best highlight what his naked eye observes through changes in color, light, and shadow.


It's part of an exhibition that examines Hopper's process by exploring drawings from early in his career as well as in connection with some of his most famous paintings, such as Office at Night (1940), which is one of the 22 paintings on view. 

Organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker's presentation is organized thematically, with each room taking on a different focus, from his early work, to the drawings he made while in Paris between 1906-1910, to sections that look at particular subjects Hopper painted, such as cityscapes, interior scenes, roadside landscapes, and intimate bedroom scenes.  

While it's a bummer that the exhibition doesn't actually include Nighthawks -- the famous painting featuring a couple of gangster-looking men, a woman, and a bartender through the window of a seedy-looking cafe -- it's neat to see the different drawings that led up to it. You get to view some of Hopper's preliminary sketches of the exterior of the building as well as studies of his wife, Josephine Hopper, who modeled for the woman, and himself, who posed for the male figures.

There are similar treatments of other Hopper paintings, where you can view the drawings that led up to the final pieces. For Office at Night, you really have a chance to see how Hopper fine tuned details like the positioning of the man at his office with his secretary, or exaggerating the perspective in order to accentuate the sexual tension. There's even some accompanying writing by Hopper, from his notebook and a letter he wrote to the Walker when he sold the piece, that give more insight into his process. 

Sketches by Hopper 

Sketches by Hopper 

One thing that stands out in this exhibition is the presence of Hopper's wife, who acted as a model for his paintings that featured women. An artist in her own right, Josephine never received recognition for her work, instead acting as a supporter of Hopper's career in numerous ways, though their relationship was reportedly rocky and possibly violent. 

Josephine never seems to age in drawings and paintings. She's always young and attractive, with blond hair and a perky body. What we see is Hopper's idealized version of her. The last room of the exhibit, which features paintings and drawings of Josephine nude or scantily clad interacting with sunlight as it shines through the window, have less to do with a scene that actually took place, and more to do with an idea that Hopper is exploring. His wife becomes a character of serenity and hope. Even though he's considered a Realist, much of Hopper's work takes the real and improves it, using what's there to explore ideas and emotions. 


"Hopper Drawing: A Painter's Process"

Through June 20

Walker Art Center