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Edward Hopper retrospective goes back to realist painter's roots

April 23, 2023 - 18:04 By Park Yuna
"Night Windows" by Edward Hopper (© 2023, The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence)

Ever since it was announced early this year that American realist painter Edward Hopper’s exhibition was going to open in Seoul, there has been a huge interest in the show, prompting more than 100,000 early bird tickets to be sold before the opening last week.

The exhibition “Edward Hopper: From City to Coast” at Seoul Museum of Art, which opened Wednesday, marks the first-ever exhibition in South Korea of the New York-born artist (1882-1967), known for his paintings of ordinary people’s urban life -- especially for his depiction of their moments in solitude.

The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, which houses the largest Hopper collection in the world, has brought together more than 160 pieces of the late artist’s works including drawings, oil paintings, etchings and watercolors as well as more than 110 archival materials from the Sanborn Hopper Archive.

"A Woman in the Sun" by Edward Hopper (© 2023 Heirs of Josephine Hopper/Licensed by SACK, Seoul)

“We have more than 3,100 works (of his art), and that is more than any number of works that we have by any other artist in the Whitney collection,” said Adam D. Weinberg, director of Whitney Museum at the press preview on Wednesday.

Weinberg also highlighted that the Hopper exhibition was building upon the special bond the museum has built with the Korean art scene.

“Forty years ago in 1982, Whitney was the first museum ever to organize the retrospective of great Korean artist Paik Nam-june. Three decades ago in 1993, the Whitney Biennale (a biennale exhibition of contemporary American art at the museum) traveled to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in Seoul. It was the first and only time that Whitney Biennale ever traveled to another country,” he said.

The Whitney is running another exhibition, “Edward Hopper’s New York,” at the museum in New York that opened October last year and will close on May 5.

While the New York exhibition focuses on Hopper’s artistic process associated with New York City, the Seoul exhibition shows a comprehensive look at Hopper’s art and life, spanning 65 years.

Edward Hopper's cover illustration for Bulletin of the New York Edison Company is on display at “Edward Hopper: From City to Coast” at Seoul Museum of Art. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The exhibition at SEMA goes beyond the artist’s most popular and iconic paintings of modern people. Rather, it explores how the artist started his career as an illustrator for magazines, how his wife and fellow artist Josephine Hopper influenced him and what Hopper was inspired by while traveling.

The “From City to Coast” exhibition takes visitors to the places Hopper repeatedly visited -- Paris, New York City, the New England region and Cape Cod, with four different sections dedicated to paintings inspired by each city.

An installation view of “Edward Hopper: From City to Coast” at Seoul Museum of Art (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Hopper left a lot of oil paintings of nature. Captivated by the charms of New England, Hopper and his wife set up their own home in Truro, southern Cape Cod in 1934. They spent their summers there, and returned to New York City in early autumn every year for the rest of their lives. The "Cape Cod" section shows oil paintings of rustic farm houses and coastlines.

During three visits to Paris, Hopper would observe the daily life of Parisians, including janitors, prostitutes, cafegoers and people dressed in fashionable clothes. The painting “Soir Bleu” shows an assortment of people at a Parisian cafe. A working-class man is shown on the far left, a bourgeois couple on the far right and a prostitute and clown smoking a cigarette at the center, the museum description reads. The painting was created in 1914, four years after the artist’s final trip to the city.

"Soir Bleu" by Edward Hopper (© 2023 Heirs of Josephine Hopper/Licensed by SACK, Seoul)

“After I took up etching, my painting seemed to crystallize,” the artist once said. Etching was an important part of his artistic career as he turned to etching -- a printmaking technique in which lines are emphasized -- when he was caught in the tedious reality of working as an illustrator for a living. His black-and-white etching is featured at the section titled “New York.”

"Etching for Hopper became a very important medium. We think of Hopper as someone who is so involved with color and light, but he honed a lot of that through the etching medium, working with these kind of dramatic contrasts," said Kim Conaty, Steven and Ann Ames Curator of Drawings and Prints, showing etchings created between 1915 and 1923.

Works of etching by Edward Hopper are featured at “Edward Hopper: From City to Coast” at Seoul Museum of Art. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The section continues to show a number of Hopper's sketches of architectural elements and people in New York City, which the artist would bring together in compositions. From the late 1930s, he began infusing his paintings with images from his memory and imagination.

On the first floor are his writings, illustrations as well as a documentary that sheds light on his artistic career. After her husband’s death, Josephine donated some 2,500 pieces of Hopper’s artworks and materials to the Whitney museum.

The exhibition runs through Aug. 20.

A room dedicated to a documentary of Edward Hopper for the exhibition "Edward Hopper: From City to Coast” at Seoul Museum of Art (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)