With arresting simplicity and a nuanced interpretation of natural light, Edward Hopper’s watercolors are some of the most vibrant and original works of twentieth-century American art. Executed in 1930, Rich’s House, North Truro reflects important shifts in the artist’s personal and professional life that began the year that Hopper first settled with his wife Jo on Cape Cod. “The summer of 1930,” writes art historian Virginia Mecklenburg, “marked a major change in the Hoppers' lives. Having spent the previous six summers of their married life in small towns along the New England coast, they went instead to Cape Cod, which would become their primary residence for at least three months of nearly every year for the rest of their lives. The new location prompted shifts in Hopper's themes and in the fundamental way he handled shape and form. He continued to look back in time for subjects, but also discovered Modernist elements in the simple barns and houses that dotted the rolling hills around Truro.” (Edward Hopper, The Watercolors, New York, 1999, p. 95) As captured in Rich’s House, the landscape and architecture of Truro would become the principal themes of Hopper’s watercolors for much of the rest of his career.
When the Hoppers first visited Cape Cod in 1930, they rented a house in South Truro, where they would return for the next three summers. Nearby Provincetown had a bustling artist community where Jo had studied before their marriage, but Hopper preferred the quiet South Truro with a population of only five hundred. Captivated by the area, the couple built a home and studio there in 1934. Yet, Hopper avoided painting the traditional panoramas of beaches and oceans which had historically attracted artists to the region, instead preferring the unassuming saltbox homes and buildings that populated the peninsula. Carol Troyen explains Hopper’s fascination with the Cape Cod home, writing, “The simple shapes of these houses were the architectural antithesis of the complicated, ornamented Victorians he had been drawn to in Gloucester, but the appeal was the same: they offered the opportunity to paint the mesmerizing rhythms of sun and shadow generated in the heat of the day and in the long afternoons.” (“Edward Hopper” in C.E. Foster, ed., Edward Hopper, exhibition catalogue, Milan, 2009, p. 51)
While on the Cape, Hopper would often draw and paint from his car while driving through the area looking for inspiration. This practice imbues his works with a sense of distance, often making the viewer feel like a voyeur rather than a participant in the scene. Robert Hobbs writes of the impact of the automobile on Hopper’s art, “Unlike his artistic forebears, Hopper is the poetic distiller of the landscape of late industrialism. He is also the first chronicler of the view of America dictated by the automobile, and, most important, he is the first to understand the ramifications of the automobile, an invention that would serve to isolate people from each other and separate them from the country they hoped to escape to on weekends. At an early date he understood the ways that the automobile would transform America and make it psychologically as decentralized as present-day Los Angeles.” (Edward Hopper, New York, 1987, p. 11)
Rich’s House captures the home and windmill on Michael and Amelia Rich's farm, which sold grain, milk and coal at the time and is now the site of Truro Vineyards. Hopper depicts the scene at a slight angle, as if seen from a car mirror while driving past on the road. The farmhouse subject is common enough to feel familiar, and yet rendered in such an anonymous fashion so as to make it feel foreign, creating a continuously engaging dichotomy. A white fence separates the viewer from the scene, creating a physical and psychological barrier between viewer and subject. Additionally, the house itself feels distant, empty of life with nothing visible through the windows. Even the windmill seems still. Overall, the work is permeated by a profound silence that gives the mundane subject a lofty weight. Gerry Souter explains, “As the 1930s produced bank failures, business failures, foreclosures, and bankruptcies, Edward Hopper’s paintings of American places became icons of a rock-solid America on which a new future would be built. On another level, his interpretation of these places and the vast silences that seemed to surround them and their inhabitants also gave art writers, critics, and journalists considerable grist for their interpretative mills." (G. Souter, Edward Hopper: Light and Dark, New York, 2012, p. 131)
In the record book kept by Hopper’s wife Jo, Rich’s House is documented under “Watercolors-Summer 1930 South Truro” and described as a “big square white house with sturdy little tree at R. side. Fence & field. Windmill at R.” (D. Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work, New York, 1997, p. 35) Through Hopper’s compositional skills, these simple elements come together to create “something epic and timeless, and yet…deceptively straightforward…It is Hopper’s sparseness which allows us to project the details of our own lives into his painted world, to see the lives projected on canvas as standing for all lives.” (D. Lyons, Edward Hopper and the American Imagination, New York, 1995, pp. xi-xii)