In 1930, the Hoppers decided to summer in South Truro, Massachusetts, rather than in Gloucester or Cape Elizabeth. Hopper described the landscape of this isolated town near the tip of Cape Cod as composed of “fine big hills of sand—a very open almost treeless country.” The area’s wind-swept dunes and solitary houses provided a fresh source of inspiration for the artist; his first summers there were among the most productive he had known. In 1933, when Jo Hopper inherited some money, she and Edward bought land and built a house in South Truro. They spent nearly every summer and early fall there for the rest of their lives.
Although their house had breathtaking views of Cape Cod Bay, Hopper never painted these vistas. As in Gloucester and Maine, he was not interested in producing such typical views. Instead, he often depicted one house standing alone in nature, conveying the remoteness and quiet of the sparsely populated area around Truro. During this time, Hopper began to create more monumental watercolors, using thicker and larger paper. He also simplified the area’s austere houses to emphasize their abstraction and, as in House on Pamet River, compressed the pictorial space. His decision to focus on the flat, geometric shapes of these structures recalls Cubism, although he never would have admitted that influence.
Perhaps intentionally, Hopper wanted to separate himself from American Scene painters, with whom critics repeatedly grouped him. In the 1930s, American Scene painting dominated American art, as artists such as Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry turned away from European-influenced abstraction toward more realistic depictions of specifically American places and regions. Hopper felt strongly that American Scene paintings caricatured American culture, and he rejected the attempt to create a national art. Painting for Hopper was an intensely personal act that could represent only the artist’s individual vision. “My aim in painting,” he explained, “has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature.”
Edward Hopper. House on Pamet River, 1934. Watercolor over graphite on paper. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Purchase.