A rare and striking image, House by a River is a fine example of Hopper's preference for the etching medium thanks to its ability to impart a powerful composition with an economy of means. Conceived during one of his frequent visits to the New England coast, the artist captures a fleeting contemplative moment so indicative and integral to his characteristic style. The different impressions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art allow us to identify a first state and a final state of this subject, as well as possible intermediate states differentiated by inking and wiping of the plate. It was Hopper's practice to carefully modify the inking and wiping for each pull, thereby making each impression unique. These efforts are particularly apparent in the present impression of the final finished state where the juxtaposition between luminous highlights and intense shadow is beautifully rendered through the generous application of ink to the deeply etched lines. Having pulled impressions of the earlier 'states' on off-white or cream paper, the artist then selected the brilliant white paper of the present impression to further accentuate the inking and wiping of this the final state. One of only approximately ten lifetime impressions - the others all housed in public institutions with a few in significant private collections - to our knowledge this impression is the only example to have appeared at auction and provides an exceptionally rare glimpse of an important work by an artist so skilled and revered for his craft.
We are grateful to David Kiehl, curator of Prints at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and to the staff of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for their assistance during our research.