Edward Hopper's paintings of American daily life, from his views behind windows and across streets to his depictions of simple rural, white houses, are immediately recognizable for their ability to translate everyday scenes and scenery into timeless works resembling cinematic stills. “What is so remarkable and what links him with the tradition of great art is the way in which he invests his subjects with a feeling of elemental character and timelessness, an air of suspended animation and—despite their seeming literalness—an abstract framework of shape, form and color.” (J.S. Trovato, Edward Hopper: Oils, Watercolors, Prints, Clinton, New York, 1964, n.p.) Cape Ann Granite, one of the few Hopper landscapes in oil, is a rare example of the artist’s mature style applied to natural formations rather than man-made structures.
Hopper executed Cape Ann Granite in the summer of 1928, when he and his wife Jo traveled to Gloucester, Massachusetts, for the warmer months. It was Hopper's habit to stay in New York from October to May, attending shows, writing, giving interviews and working on oils. From June to August, though, the couple would travel, often to New England but also out West and to Mexico. Therefore, after a very busy year in the city, Hopper and Jo set off in their Dodge for Gloucester on June 28, 1928 for what would be their final carefree vacation before the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
Throughout the summer of 1928, the last which they would spend in Gloucester, Hopper drove around the area searching for new inspirational subjects and creating watercolor studies. On one of these excursions, he was motivated by the bright light of summer reflecting off the yellow-green grass and hilltop boulders of a pasture behind a summer colony called Riverview. He produced a watercolor entitled Cape Ann Pasture (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut), which captures the scene from a distance with cows in the foreground. During his last weeks in Gloucester, Hopper revisited some of his most successful subjects, such as this one, and created a series of oil paintings including the present work, Cape Ann Granite.
More focused in scope than the related watercolor, Cape Ann Granite portrays the granite rocks up close, concentrating on the pattern of shadows formed on the bright grass and the effect of the blowing wind on the shrubbery. Hopper “attacked the familiar countryside with an opacity around which flowed luminous grass—like a current of water around the modeled rocks in Cape Ann Granite.” (G. Souter, Edward Hopper: Light and Dark, New York, 2012, p. 122) In Hopper’s journal of works, Cape Ann Granite is listed under “Oils 1928” as “green pasture on hill with rocks. Fresh green in foreground. Slanting shadows cast by rocks & boulders. Sky blue with stratus clouds. Small tree on R.” and is represented by a small sketch of the work. (D. Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work, New York, 1997, p. 29)
Despite the close proximity to the nominal rocks in Cape Ann Granite, Hopper also maintains his quintessential sense of distance by placing a large boulder in the front of the picture plane. Through its location, he creates the sensation that the viewer is looking out at the scene from behind the rock's boundary. As a result, Hopper embeds the landscape with the psychological tension and feeling of isolation for which he is known. The work is also distinctly Hopper in its attention to realism in the midst of rising abstractionist movements. Gerry Souter explains, “Hopper stood like a rock amid the chaos that welcomed, then rejected the Impressionists, dismissed, then lionized the Expressionists, Surrealists, and other “ists” that bubbled to the surface. His work needed no manifesto, belonged to no school. A Hopper needed no signature.” (Edward Hopper: Light and Dark, New York, 2012, p. 8)
Fellow artist Charles Burchfield wrote in 1933, “More than being American, Hopper is—just Hopper, thoroughly and completely himself. His art seems to have had few antecedents and, like most truly individual expressions, will probably have no descendants. Search as you will, you will find in his mature art no flounderings, no deviations, no experimenting in this or that method of working. Such bold individualism in American art of the present, or at least, the immediate past, is almost unique, and is perhaps one explanation of Hopper’s rise to fame. In him we have regained that sturdy American independence which Thomas Eakins gave us, but which for a time was lost.” (A.H. Barr, Jr., Edward Hopper Retrospective Exhibition, New York, 1933)