EDWARD HOPPER (1882-1967)
EDWARD HOPPER (1882-1967)
EDWARD HOPPER (1882-1967)
1 More
EDWARD HOPPER (1882-1967)
4 More
From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot whic… Read more
EDWARD HOPPER (1882-1967)

Two Puritans

EDWARD HOPPER (1882-1967)
Two Puritans
signed ‘Edward Hopper’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
30 x 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm.)
Painted in 1945
Frank K.M. Rehn, Inc., New York (acquired from the artist).
Mark Sugarman, South Coatesville, Pennsylvania (acquired from the above, 1947).
Frank K.M. Rehn, Inc., New York.
William E. Leistner, Long Island.
Frank K.M. Rehn, Inc., New York.
George Mladanich, New Haven.
Olga Knoepke, Connecticut (1962).
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., New York (1987).
Barbra Streisand, California (acquired from the above, 1987).
Martha Parrish & James Reinish, Inc., New York and Greenberg Van Doren Gallery, St. Louis (acquired from the above, 2000).
Private collection (acquired from the above, 2002).
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2015.
Artist’s ledger: Book III, 1924-1967, p. 15.
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist, New York, 1980, pp. 44-45 and 50 (illustrated in color, p. 184, pl. 231).
R. Elovich, “Current and Forthcoming Exhibitionsin The Burlington Magazine, February 1981, vol. 123, p. 111.
G. Pellegrini, “Edward Hopper tra realismo e metafisica” in Bollettino d’Arte, April-June 1982, p. 150 (illustrated, p. 149, fig. 7).
G. Levin, Hopper, New York, 1984, p. 79 (illustrated in color, p. 86).
G. Levin, Hopper’s Places, New York, 1985, p. 12.
R. Smith, “Review/Art; The Real World and Edward Hopper” in The New York Times, 28 October 1988, Section C, p. 26.
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, vol. III, p. 310, no. O-331 (illustrated in color, p. 311).
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 1995, p. 381.
D. Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work, New York, 1997, pp. 22 and 72.
V.M. Mecklenburg, Edward Hopper: The Watercolors, exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 1999, pp. 162 and 170, note 33.
G. Levin, The Complete Oil Paintings of Edward Hopper, New York, 2001, p. 310, no. O-331 (illustrated in color, p. 311).
R.G. Renner, Hopper, 1882-1967: Transformation of the Real, Los Angeles, 2006, pp. 41-42.
C. Steinle, Schmalix, exh. cat., Neue Galerie, Graz, 2007, p. 33 (illustrated, fig. XIX).
W. Wells, Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper, New York, 2007, pp. 180 and 185 (illustrated in color, p. 178, fig. 127).
C.E. Foster, Western Motel: Edward Hopper and Contemporary Art, exh. cat., Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, 2008, pp. 111 and 280 (illustrated in color, p. 113, fig. 15).
G. Souter, Edward Hopper: Light and Dark, New York, 2012, p. 159.
G. Theisen, Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche, New York, 2013, pp. 30-31 and 106.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Edward Hopper, September-November 1964, p. 65, no. 48.
Berlin, Akademie der Künste, Amerika: Traum und Depression 1920/40, November-December 1980, p. 155, no. 196a (illustrated).
New York, Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Edward Hopper: Light Years, October-November 1988, p. 37, no. 56 (illustrated in color, p. 4).
London, Tate Modern and Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Edward Hopper, May 2004-January 2005, pp. 41, 188, and 247 (illustrated in color, p. 189).
Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Hopper, June 2012-January 2013, p. 339, no. 141 (illustrated in color, p. 218).
Basel, Fondation Beyeler, Edward Hopper, May-September 2020, p. 143 (illustrated in color, p. 113).
Special notice
From time to time, Christie's may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Although painted decades ago, Edward Hopper's haunting visions of loneliness in the modern world—as most famously represented by his Nighthawks diner scene of 1942 (The Art Institute of Chicago; Levin, no. O-322)—uniquely resonate with the collective struggle with unprecedented levels of distance and isolation in today's age. Last June, in the midst of pandemic shutdowns, The New Yorker published an article with the stark headline "Alone" in which art critic Peter Schjeldahl reflected, "I've been thinking a lot about Edward Hopper. So have other stay-at-homes, I notice online. The visual bard of American solitude—not loneliness, a maudlin projection—speaks to our isolated states these days with fortuitous poignance…He leaves us alone with our own solitude, taking our breath away and not giving it back" (The New Yorker, 8 and 15 June 2020). As a tweet declaring "We are all Edward Hopper paintings now" went viral on Twitter, Jonathan Jones of The Guardian begged the question, "Is he the artist of the coronavirus age?" ("'We are all Edward Hopper paintings now': is he the artist of the coronavirus age?," 27 March 2020).
Depicting a pair of austere, uninhabited Cape Cod houses, Hopper's Two Puritans of 1945 is at once a reflection on communal feelings of seclusion within modern life, as well as an intimate and revealing symbolic portrait of the artist and his wife. The painting embodies the duality which empowers the lasting emotional impression the artist imprints on his viewers. What is at first glance a seemingly mundane, suburban subject is poignantly betrayed by a complex psychological subtext lying just beneath the surface. The frisson created in this disconnect between subject and meaning defines Hopper's best work and imbues his compositions with an almost haunting permanence, leaving an indelible mark on the mind’s eye. This ability to distill time, to freeze a single moment in perpetuity, cemented his legacy and inspired future generations of artists.
As with all of Hopper’s best works, this quotidian scene is marked by a pervasive silence through the artist's deliberate compositional choices. The dirt path, row of tree trunks and fence in front of the two buildings directly block the viewer’s entry into the scene and relegate us to the role of voyeur, creating a sense of unease that is one of the distinguishing qualities of his oeuvre. The path also simultaneously leads us in and out of the composition in a drive-by manner, much as the railroad tracks, roads and waterways that appear throughout the artist's work. Hopper closely crops the scene to avoid extraneous detail, such as the tops of the trees and the roof of the larger house, forcing us to contemplate the relationship between the homes without further context. Yet, while the two houses are positioned together within this focused scene, there is a palpable estrangement between the structures underscored by the fence that separates them. Upon closer inspection, no openings or gates in the white picket fences are revealed, and there are no doorknobs, thereby completely blocking entry. Yet, the positioning of the blinds and drapes indicates that someone is or has recently been in the buildings, imbuing the work with a haunting suspense that is heightened by the eerie silence. The viewer is immersed in the atmosphere of quiet loneliness that populates a vacation spot out of season.
In order to build his nuanced environment within a large-scale painting like Two Puritans, Hopper carefully considered every pictorial aspect before he even picked up his brush. This arduous creative process was so emotionally and time-intensive that Hopper usually only completed a few canvases a year. In 1945 he painted three oil paintings: August in the City (Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach; Levin, no. O-329), Rooms for Tourists (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; Levin, no. O-330) and the present work. Robert Hobbs writes, “He said that a painting was almost completely established in his mind before he began to paint it. His art was the result of a long and painful period of allowing various impressions to form a synthesis, and then it was a patient and equally difficult time of trying to re-create that synthesis, a process of finding painterly equivalents for the vision he held” (Edward Hopper, New York, 1987, p. 10).
Hopper always embraced one of his mentor Robert Henri's central teachings: to paint the city and street life he knew best. Accordingly, he found his varied subject matter, from urban offices, apartments and movie theaters to country roads, isolated homes and undulating dunes, within the surrounds of his own homes in New York City and New England. In 1934, Hopper built a home and studio in South Truro on Cape Cod, where he and his wife Jo would spend six months almost every year. Summers on the Massachusetts coast often spurred a creative outpouring, as Hopper found an abundance of inspiration in the unassuming homes and buildings that populated the peninsula as well as the sandy dunes and crystalline light that give South Truro its distinct character. Hopper had long been fascinated by the pictorial possibilities of the play of light and shadow on buildings, once writing, “All I ever wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house” (quoted in L. Goodrich, Edward Hopper: Selections for the Hopper Bequest, New York, 1971, p. 8). Carl Little notes, “New England led Hopper into realms of light and shadow…His very soul, it would seem, fell in sync with the poetry and spirit of the place” (Edward Hopper’s New England, New York, 1993, p. VI).
Hopper would drive around the Cape in search of subject matter, often drawing and painting from his car, a practice that he undertook in various locations throughout his career. It was during one of these drives that he found inspiration for Two Puritans. Noted Hopper scholar Gail Levin writes, “After a trip to Hyannis on September 24, to repair the car and Edward’s glasses, he began ‘making little sketches’ for a new painting. On October 1, he and Jo drove to Orleans and he ‘made drawing of house he means to use. Tall, simple, dignified white house, as simple as they come, not the little Cape Cod Colonial. He seems to steer away from these beguiling little darlings.’ The next day, he stretched a canvas and the day after that, he ‘drew in composition on canvas in charcoal. Now he finds he isn’t quite ready to begin yet, has to get clearer idea.’ On October 9, the Hoppers drove to Orleans because Edward wanted ‘a grey day to look at trees without sun or shadow on them.’ They went shopping in Provincetown a week later, and Edward ‘made a sketch of branches of elm tree with dripping foliage for his picture—houses, white houses that look like white petunias.’ Years later, Jo…noted that there had only been one house ‘in fact but E. put in another—standing right at side of Route 6, no lawn, close to road with ciel blafard, palely loitering no sky, they loom tall & pale & purified” (op. cit., 1995, p. 381). Three preliminary drawings of Two Puritans are known, including a study which will be offered in Christie's American Art sale in New York on 18 November 2021.
Despite the familiar realist imagery of the Cape Cod landscape, the title of Two Puritans, as well as the physical attributes of the houses, strongly indicate that the painting is also a symbolic portrait of Hopper and his wife Jo. Gail Levin writes, “The title of this work is an unusual one, perhaps referring to Guy Pène du Bois’ statement that Hopper ‘Turned the Puritan in him into a purist, turned moral rigors into stylistic precisions.’ The houses in this composition, however, seem strangely animated. The windows, shutters, and doors read almost like facial features, elements of personalities that make their presence felt. In this sense the houses may symbolize the tall Hopper and his petite wife, both of whom steadfastly refused to be swayed by fad and fashion. The anthropomorphizing of architectural elements recalls the work of Hopper’s friend Charles Burchfield.” (op. cit., 2001, p. 310).
Hopper’s relationship with his wife, who was an exhibiting artist in her own right, was notoriously complicated and often fraught. When they met, Jo was the more established art world figure and helped introduce him to important curators and dealers. As they worked closely side-by-side at home and on their travels, their careers were soon going in opposite directions, with Hopper becoming the significantly more acclaimed artist. A strong dependency also developed between them, with Jo keeping meticulous records of her husband's acclaimed paintings, handling his correspondence, posing as a model and even referring to his works as their "children." Seen as a portrait, Two Puritans embodies this singular relationship. The two clapboard houses feel distant and stifled, but also as though each might collapse if separated from the other. They are unified by a white picket fence, a universal symbol of pure values, yet quite distinct in their separation, marked by the trees which aggressively bisect the composition.
In many respects, Two Puritans references Grant Wood’s American Gothic of 1930 (The Art Institute of Chicago), which evokes a similar uneasy sensation of being simultaneously attached and distant. That Hopper would have referred to himself and Jo as "Puritans" is not surprising, as he easily identified with the strong mores reminiscent of the Victorian era. Thiesen notes, “What we mean by puritanical is more often something like the nearly pathological prudery of the Victorian Era. Such prudery dominated the culture when Hopper was growing up, especially among the churchgoing middle class of small towns, such as Nyack, if not in big cities such as New York…Although he was a child of the Victorian era, Hopper accepted the term puritan in relation to himself and his art. He even encouraged the identification when he named a painting of a stolid pair of clapboard houses, reminiscent of the one in which he grew up, Two Puritans” (Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche, New York, 2006, pp. 105-106).
Beyond the work's resonance as a self-portrait, Two Puritans can also be seen as a representation of Hopper's dogged dedication to representation in his art. In 1945, Pène du Bois enlisted Hopper to write a treatise in support of realist art, and while Hopper was reluctant, he spent a significant amount of time studying the works of Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins and developed a newfound appreciation for these earlier American realist masters. With this context in mind, these two white houses with their picket fence stand proudly and boldly in the face of abstraction, even while Hopper embraced tenets of modernism to convey his multiple hidden layers of meaning.
In Two Puritans and throughout his career, Hopper painted aspects of modern life that few other artists addressed. He portrayed unromantic visions of the uncertainties and loneliness within twentieth-century society, which continue to resonate with realism in today's twenty-first century world.

More from 20th Century Evening Sale

View All
View All