Christie’s American Art specialist William Haydock salutes a 1930 watercolour of Cape Cod, suggesting that the stillness it captures might have contributed towards an atmosphere of serenity in David Rockefeller’s office
‘I was lucky enough to see Edward Hopper’s Rich’s House when it hung in the Rockefeller’s family office,’ says William Haydock, American Art specialist at Christie’s in New York. ‘The work previously had pride of place in David’s Chase office next to his imposing desk. It was one of his most cherished paintings, and he proudly displayed it in areas where he could see it with great regularity.’
In 1952 David and his wife Peggy spotted Rich’s House while visiting E. Weyhe, Inc., in New York. The gallery had been a favourite of David’s mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who had died four years earlier. David had also been a school classmate of the gallery owner’s daughter, Gertrude Weyhe. Gertrude had invited David to his first freshman prom at Connecticut College, and become a longstanding friend.
Rich’s House was painted in 1930, which was a pivotal year for Edward Hopper (1882-1967). The artist and his wife Josephine visited South Truro, Cape Cod, for the first time. The area’s landscapes and buildings soon became the artist’s principal source of inspiration. The Hoppers built their own summer house there four years later, and returned to South Truro every summer for the rest of their lives.
Hopper would often paint from his car, using the distance between the road and the subject to fill his pictures. Indeed, it has been suggested that Rich’s House could be a view of the farm as seen from Hopper’s car mirror, particularly as delicate folds in the edges of the work’s paper indicate that it was painted over a board in situ. ‘Hopper embeds the picture with a characteristic tension and distinct feeling of isolation,’ says Haydock. ‘Perhaps just as importantly, he concentrates on the patterning of light and shadow, a key element seen in many of his most accomplished works.’
Inspired by his mother, who co-founded the Museum of Modern Art in New York, David collected works by Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Arthur Davies, among many others. ‘Rich’s House,’ he wrote, ‘in many ways typifies the charm of Hopper’s paintings.’
In Cape Cod Hopper found respite from the bustle of New York City, and the simple architectural structures he discovered there allowed him to engage with new, exciting material. ‘Perhaps Rich’s House provided David wth a similar sense of calm, which ultimately made him such a good businessman,’ notes Haydock.