In 1913 Hopper moved into the top floor of 3 Washington Square North in New York’s Greenwich Village. This 19th-century building would be his home and studio for the rest of his life. While Modernists such as John Marin, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Charles Sheeler immortalized the symbols of Jazz Age New York—the skyscraper and the machine—Hopper focused on the city’s vernacular architecture. His views continued the tradition of his teacher Robert Henri and of John Sloan and other members of the so-called Ashcan School, whose work he admired. While those artists celebrated the gritty, clamorous, vibrant life of the city, Hopper depicted familiar, though not especially scenic, views of old shop fronts, middle-class amusements, and empty, silent corners.
Soon Hopper began to include more figures and narratives in his work, depicting mundane scenes of people living their private lives in public view. These carefully constructed tableaus of city life engage the viewer by eliciting curiosity and sympathy but do not offer any resolution. In Room in New York, a husband, presumably just home from the office, has removed his jacket and is absorbed in the newspaper, while his wife, poking at the piano, wears evening attire, as though she is ready to go out. The asymmetrical framing of the picture heightens the impression that this scene is one that has been captured in a glance.
Chop Suey is set in a modest Chinese restaurant not unlike one that the Hoppers frequented. Two women wearing the form-fitting sweaters that came into vogue in the late 1920s sit at a table together. Their relationship is undefined: it is difficult to tell if they are looking at or talking to each other. Carefully choosing his vantage point and lighting scheme to create a balance of abstract geometries in the composition, Hopper captured the beauty in this commonplace scene.
Office at Night presents another intriguing yet unresolved scene—a woman in an impossibly tight dress files papers, while her boss appears immersed in his work. The stillness of the scene is cut by a slight breeze that rustles the shade’s cord and seems to have blown a paper to the floor. Although there is a strong erotic tension in the painting, Hopper left the meaning typically open-ended. “I hope it will not tell any obvious anecdote,” he explained, “for none is intended.”
Edward Hopper. Room in New York, 1932. Oil on canvas. Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, University of Nebraska-Lincoln UNL–F. M. Hall Collection.
Edward Hopper. Office at Night, 1940. Oil on canvas. Collection Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; gift of the T. B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund, 1948.