Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Property from the Collection of Marie B. and Edward F. Swenson, Jr.
Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

South Truro Post Office I

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
South Truro Post Office I
signed 'Edward Hopper/South Truro' (lower right)
watercolor and pencil on paper
13¾ x 19¾ in. (35 x 50.2 cm.)
Executed in 1930.
[With]Weintraub Gallery, New York.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1981.
The artist's record book, I, 1930, p. 73.
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, New York, 1995, p. 230, no. W-261, illustrated.
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 1995, p. 231.
G. Levin, The Complete Watercolors of Edward Hopper, New York, 2001, p. 230, no. W-261, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Edward Hopper produced some of the most vibrant and original watercolors by any artist of his generation. By 1930, when he first settled with his wife, Josephine, on Cape Cod, he also began to explore new themes in his art and to achieve a new measure of critical success. "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) For the next three years, and in works produced even later in life, the landscape and architecture near Hopper's South Truro home would become the principal themes of his watercolors.

The thirties were also a time of important personal transitions for the artist. As noted by Mecklenburg, "The first six months of 1930 brought several important events in Hopper's career. In January Stephen Clark gave House by the Railroad to The Museum of Modern Art, the first painting to be accepted for the new museum's permanent collection. In May Juliana Force bought Early Sunday Morning (Whitney Museum of American Art), an oil Hopper had finished two months earlier...He was gaining an international reputation as well. Between January and mid-June he sent sixteen paintings and at least a half-dozen prints to shows as distant as the Venice Biennale (organized that year by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and Juliana Force) and the Royal Academy in Stockholm, as well as to museums closer to home. Though he continued to send etchings to specialized print shows, Hopper's watercolors and oils had become the works of choice for major exhibitions." (Edward Hopper, The Watercolors, p. 95)

One of the works painted by Hopper during his first summer on Cape Cod was the present painting, South Truro Post Office I. His record book, which Hopper and his wife maintained, notes delivery of the watercolor to his dealer, Frank Rehn, in October 1930. It also mentions the inclusion of their home in the composition--apparently the only time Hopper did so in a watercolor: "South Truro Post Office I. Little red P.O., trim little round tree at side. Roof of our house sticking up behind trees." (as quoted in G. Levin, Edward Hopper Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, New York, 1995, p. 230)

The Hoppers rented the cottage from the postmaster, Burleigh Cobb. Writing to a friend that first summer, Jo described the location of the house "on the side of a hill in a wonderful land of bare green sandy hills--so open to the sky & wind-blown & wild...This is the first time we've ever had a little house all to ourselves & we're having great joy of it. It's just a little summer cottage, as primitive as the land
it's in. We have our own pump (that works & easily) & a brand new 3 burner oil stove and big oven...There is no laundry anywhere round, but we have a big nickel kettle & the pump & the stove & tubs & I wash and E.H. rinses and wrings out & the sheets & things looked so white blowing in the wind, we got quite excited over it...When the weather is glorious it's rather fun to be primitive." Hopper also wrote to a friend, Clarence Chatterton: "Fine big hills of sand, a desert on a small scale with fine dune formations, a very open almost treeless country--I think you would like it." (as quoted in Edward Hopper, the Watercolors, p. 97)

Over the summer, Hopper embarked on a series of important watercolors, several of which are now included in museum collections such as Highland Light, North Truro (Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts), North Truro Station (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York) and Methodist Church Tower (Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut). "Before leaving the Cape that summer," writes Mecklenburg, "Hopper painted views of the farms of the Lewis and Rich families, as well as that of his landlord "Burly" Cobb, a subject he would return to repeatedly in the next several years. He also did two watercolors of the post office in South Truro. In South Truro Post Office I the modest red frame building nestles into the landscape, with the Hoppers' own cottage visible on the hill behind the tree. In this work Hopper has handled the watercolor medium differently--touches of dense blue-green pigment in the foreground and the central tree give dimensionality as well as color to the shadows. To highlight the upper leaves of the central tree, whose shape shows the direction of the prevailing winds, Hopper scratched away the top layer of pigment letting the whiteness of the paper lighten the yellow-green of the underlying watercolor. In the warm tonalities of the grass (the only respite from the hot midday sun is the dark shade under the trees), Hopper has created a domestic scene. Man lives in quiet symbiosis with other men and with nature." (Edward Hopper, The Watercolors, pp. 104-06)

As noted by Hopper's biographer, Lloyd Goodrich, color and light convey much of the power and mystery inherent in the artist's work. As it is in Hopper's urban paintings, in his rural imagery "Light is again a major factor...Whereas the American Impressionists had imported the soft air and light of France," argues Goodrich, "he liked the strong sunlight, clear air, and high cool skies of the American
Northeast...Where the Impressionists had dissolved objects in luminous haze, with him everything was seen with complete clarity. He liked the blazing sun of summer noon, projecting sharp patterns of light and shadow; or again, the clear raking sunlight of early morning or late afternoon, striking one side of objects and leaving the other in deep shadow--a light that models forms roundly and produces a dramatic play of light and shade. In his landscapes movement is created by light more than by the forms themselves. Light streams into the picture, falls on its motionless forms, becomes a dynamic element in the whole pictorial concept." (Edward Hopper, New York, 1993, p. 120)

While always maintaining a strong sense of place and an overt realism, Hopper infused his watercolors with color and light. Beyond realism, he sought to capture what he described in 1933 as "the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature." Two decades later, in an oft quoted statement, Hopper again emphasized the importance of his realism as an expression of his own, deeper, aesthetic sense. "Great art," he wrote, "is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world." (as quoted in Edward Hopper, pp. 161, 164)

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