A large Edward Hopper show is going to close on Oct. 16th at the Walker Art Museum on the Bowdoin College campus. I saw the show today. It clearly reveals Hopper's talents and limitations. The small oil paintings done on Monhegan Island between 1916 and 1919 show his diciplined consistency within his method of tonal observation. One can see this same reliance on accurate tonal perception throughout his life's work. These little paintings were relatively dark in value (darker than the overexposed reproduction of rocks and water that I've posted below) In this and all of the small Monhegan paintings of this period Hopper did not vary in his method to understand his motif. This includes the way the paint was applied. This paint application is the weakness of these early paintings. The paint has very little variation in the way he puts it on. He relies almost entirely on tonal harmony to establish form and space and his inexperience in how the paint might be put on weakens the entire experience. This happens in almost all of these small paintings that introduce us to the exhibition in he first room. In the next two rooms, his watercolors contain all of the good qualities that one expects from Hopper. They're well designed, light filled (even when dark). It's a medium that he understands. The lighthouse (below) is of course, typical of Hopper's work done later than the small tonal Monhegan paintings. One wouldn't mistake this painting as being done by anyone else. His light and dark contrasts, his color and personal pacing as one takes in the entire painting, is like no one else. The drawings in the show are from the same time that the little oils were done but they indicate an inventive searching for the right marks to represent what he was looking at . They are less methodical than the small oils. A critic for the Boston Glode writes, "You'd be mad not to see this show". Well.....hurry. It closes after Sunday, the 16th.
Edward Hopper, Rocks and Shore, oil on panel,