Painted in 1929 as an oil on canvas, Hopper captures a moment of city life in the changing times of 1920s America.
Although Chop Suey features four figures within a restaurant, Hopper still manages to portray a sense of isolation and eerie stillness within his painting. The two women facing each other are not conversing, the male in the background has no interest in his companion who also shares an expressionless face. It has been suggested that the woman is facing her doppelganger as the two women are similarly dressed in the cloche hats, fashionable in the twenties era. This is true in some respects because Hopper's wife Josephine was the model all for the female figures but we are given no further clues to the relationships between the figures at the tables. Part of the restaurant's name is visible in the signage that appears on the right hand side of the painting. Its positioning indicates that it was a second floor restaurant.
At that time, Chop Suey was the name given to many of the upstairs restaurants serving Chinese food. These restaurants were becoming very popular for the new city workers, workers that now included women. The fact that the two women are dining together depicts the societal changes and changing roles for women. Hopper and his wife Jo, enjoyed dining in such restaurants. Although Hopper was not a fan of abstract art, he puts it to some effect in this painting. Geometric shapes convey the shafts of light coming from the vibrant city outside the restaurant. As the population shifted towards busy city-life, Hopper appears to capture a moment in time and conveys an element of detachment in a social setting. Hopper's artwork is striking, perplexing and Chop Suey is one of his most stunning works. He remained consistent with the style of working for many decades and although criticised by some over his technical abilities, the public have warmed to his work in droves.
To feature two figures together avoids the commenting on social isolation that appeared elsewhere in Hopper's oevure. Instead, we find two young women looking fairly comfortable in the surroundings of this simple but smart restaurant. The neon sign for this establishment is partially displayed to the right of the work, though not in a way that would be overly dominant. A small lamp is perched on a ledge to the side, and the windows above allow light to saturate into the work. It is therefore more upbeat than some of his other paintings. The two women have a simple spread, perhaps just a pot of tea or coffee around which they discuss their thoughts of the day. A plain white tabletop provides a barrier between them, whilst a further male figure can be seen in the background, with his partner's face just appearing in from the edge of the painting. A blind above resticts some light from the top of the windows, allowing the artist to give some impression of light shadows coming in diagonally from the top right of the canvas.
The color palette of Chop Suey is perhaps more varied than the other's other paintings, with a wide range of tones of blue, yellow, green, red, purple and orange to be found in the various objects littered across the scene. This makes it a particularly impactful piece, but also loses some of the consistency that the artist achieved elsewhere. It was also rare for him to use as many of four different people within the same painting, but in a way that helps to make this work so interesting when viewed against the context of his overall career. He would regularly use his wife to model for him and she may have actually served the role of both women nearest us. He purposely leaves the female with her back to us as a supporting element, encouraging us to focus more on the expression of the woman with a green jumper. The larger image of the painting at the bottom of this page will reveal more detail of the work to you.
Chop Suey remains one of the artist's most well known pieces, from a long and extensive career. He worked consistently within this same style of work, and frequently commented upon elements of urban life, though also sometimes depicting more rural locations too. Alongside this work, some of his other most famous paintings included the likes of Nighthawks, Gas, Automat and House by the Railroad. He took this form of societal commentary as far as it could really go, incorporating consistent palettes and varieties of residential and commercial architecture. In some cases he also created his own locations that were combinations of areas that he had visited or lived in the past, and would normally sketch these out first, prior to working with oils. Others soon started to work in a similar way and although they may have boasted impressive technical skills, they could never quite recreate the undeniably charming and intriguing scenes that Hopper was able to create.
This painting can now be found within a private collection having been sold relatively recently. Although some items of Hopper's career have been acquired in this manner, a vast amount still remains accessible to the public. In some cases, the institutions own these outright, whilst others are on longterm loans from individuals who wish to allow the public to see them in person, but without reliquishing their highly valued possession. Several of the major art galleries in the US have small selections of paintings, drawings and etchings from his career and the artist has retained a strong following with the public, who much appreciate the style of his work. There also messages found within these artworks which still feel entirely relevant today, perhaps even more so than when Edward Hopper produced them several decades ago. The style used here is modern and bright, as well as entirely accessible and easy to grasp for those even with just a fleeting interest in painting.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.