Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
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Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Oaks at Eastham

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Hopper, E.
Oaks at Eastham
signed 'Edward Hopper' (lower right)
watercolor and pencil on paper
image, 20 x 27 ¾ in. (50.8 x 70.5 cm.);
sheet, 21 7/8 x 29 ½ in. (55.6 x 74.9 cm.)
Executed in 1936.
The artist.
Rehn Galleries, New York, by 1937.
Roberta Lord, New York, 1963.
By descent to the present owner from the above.
Artist’s Record Book, vol. II, p. 44.
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 2, New York, 1995, p. 278, no. W-309, illustrated.
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 2007, p. 286.
B.T. Clause, Edward Hopper in Vermont, Hanover, New Hampshire, 2012, p. 47.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Paintings, Water Colors, and Etchings by Edward Hopper, March 11-April 25, 1937, no. 89.
Manchester, New Hampshire, The Currier Gallery of Art; Providence, Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design, Museum of Art; Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum, Watercolors by Edward Hopper with a Selection of his Etchings, October 8, 1959-February 7, 1960, no. 34.

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Lot Essay

Edward Hopper first visited Cape Cod in 1930, renting a house in South Truro, Massachusetts, where he and his wife Jo would return for the next three summers. Captivated by the area, the couple built a home and studio there in 1934. While on the Cape, Hopper would often draw and paint from his car while driving through the region looking for inspiration. Indeed, Robert Hobbs declares Hopper as “the first chronicler of the view of America dictated by the automobile,” explaining, “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 decentralized.” (Edward Hopper, New York, 1987, p. 11) In Oaks at Eastham of 1936, the artist takes the viewer with him on his drives around the Cape as he explored for new subject matter. Depicting a fork in the road in the town of Eastham, about 14 miles south of Hopper’s Truro home, the present work captures the perspective from behind the windshield that imbues the work with a sense of distance that is quintessentially Hopper.

While artists were traditionally attracted to Cape Cod for its beaches and ocean panoramas, Hopper eschewed these scenes and instead preferred the unassuming saltbox homes and interior landscapes of the peninsula. 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. Eastham was surprisingly a favorite destination for Hopper, as Jo described, “Eastham his happy hunting ground & it's the least attractive township on the Cape…to think he has all these marvelous Truro hills stretched out all around us. No—they are too unusual—too off by themselves, of their own kind, unique. Most go to Eastham to get same old story. Can one beat that?” (as quoted in G. Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 2007, p. 344)

In Oaks at Eastham, Hopper delights in the psychological tension found within these unremarkable views. The painting likely depicts the intersection looking south on Massasoit Road in North Eastham, turning onto the starting point of Herring Brook Road. Literally painted at a crossroads, the work immediately evokes associations with those internal thoughts that arise when deciding which path forward to pursue and which will be the proverbial ‘road not taken’. Moreover, the angled perspective places the viewer at a palpable distance from the most populated part of the scene, as multiple barriers—the implied car window, the nearby curb, the road, an in-road divider, a picketed fence and a telephone pole—stand between the picture plane and the forest of trees in the distance. Even the woodland denies entry with its shadowed, tall trunks creating almost a natural fence. These elements all underscore the isolation felt while driving alone on the road, which Hopper would also famously explore in Road and Trees (1962, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania).

Paralleling the physical fork in the road, Oaks at Eastham also depicts a seasonal moment of change. As Jo described in her Record Book description of the watercolor: “Cape Cod. Sky grey horizontal streaks—bit of pale blue…Foreground tall black tree bare except outer fringe of orange leaves…Tops of trees, reddish brown, grey trunks against grey green dark…” (Record book II, p. 44) Indeed, the work captures the essence of a fall day in New England, with the deciduous oak trees starting to glow with the yellows and oranges of the season while still maintaining some greenery. The closest black oak tree is further along, with many of its branches already bare and the last yellow leaves hanging on just above the road. Executed in beautiful washes of green and yellow watercolor, accented with dabs of bold color, the transition into winter is underway, but for now nature still sparks with life. Hopper’s time on the Cape in 1936 was also particularly rainy, sometimes forcing him to return to sites on another day to get a clearer sky to add to his scene. In Oaks at Eastham, the sky is cloudy, perhaps with an imminent storm, but the sun is breaking through with pale blue on the horizon. Hopper’s skillfully employed watercolor medium underscores the transience of nature’s cycles depicted within the scene.

Lloyd Goodrich writes of Hopper’s work, “His art was based on the ordinary aspects of the contemporary United States, in city, town, and country, seen with uncompromising truthfulness. No artist has painted a more revealing portrait of twentieth-century America. But he was not merely an objective realist. His art was charged with strong personal emotion, with a deep attachment to our familiar everyday world, in all its ugliness, banality, and beauty.” (Edward Hopper, New York, 1967, p. 15) Oaks at Eastham embodies this description, elevating an everyday drive through the New England suburbs into a poetic meditation on the inner life of the American people in the early twentieth century.

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