Lumen de Lumine

Holland Cotter is the fine, always stimulating, art critic of The New York Times. In today's paper he reviews an exhibiton of the work of Edward Hopper, opening Sunday at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

Here's how the review begins:

A certain slant of light was Edward Hoppersthing. And he made it our thing, hard-wired it into our Americanbrains: white late-morning light scraping across a storefront;twilight, plangent with heat and regret, settling over a city; slabs oflate-night lamplight chilling the walls of Lonely Hearts Hotelseverywhere.


Hopper once said that, as anartist, the only thing he ever aspired to do was to paint sunlight onthe side of a house, and that, in essence, is all he did. Is this anaccomplishment weighty enough to support an American master title?Sometimes, yes; often, no, at least on the evidence of Edward Hopper,an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts here.

In an insightful comment, Cotter sees Hopper, who grew up in Nyack, New York, as the heir to the 19th century Hudson River School tradition. But in Hopper's case the play of light, which so intrigued him, is often refracted through Depression grittiness and Hollywood shtick.

But, at its best, left to be its luminous self, it seems to suggest a source beyond itself.

The last painting in the exhibition is Hopper's late "Sun in an Empty Room."
Here is Cotter's comment:

Done in 1963, four years before Hoppers death, it is what it says:an image of contained space. Theres a window; the trees outside itlook wind-whipped, but you cant hear the wind. Inside is all blankwalls and wheat-and-honey-colored sunlight, the two things Hopper lovedbest and felt comfortable with. He doesnt strain for a story here, ora sentiment, or skill, or completion, which all but the best of his arttries too hard for. Maybe thats why this is the least gimmickypainting in Edward Hopper, and the only happy one, and the mostlucid.

Robert P. Imbelli, a long-time Commonweal contributor, is a priest of the Archdiocese of New York. A book of essays in his honor, The Center Is Jesus Christ Himself, edited by Andrew Meszaros, was published this year by The Catholic University of America Press.

Also by this author
Joe's Back!

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Religion
Culture
Books