In Gas, Hopper has again come up with a quintessential everyday life scene in a petrol pump. It is a lonely petrol pump, ostensibly somewhere in the countryside because there are woods in the background.
Day to day life has been depicted wonderfully by Edward Hopper, an American Realist painter. When it comes to scenes of everyday life in America, Hopper took his inspiration from every place - railroads and bus stands, busy streets to lonely countryside, houses by the riverside to lighthouses, in short, anything that showcased the commonplace rather than the unique. A single man is messing about on the pump but he is not dressed in an attendant's uniform. It is night time and the lights at the pump are switched on. The picture certainly has a vivid sense of isolation and loneliness, a common theme to most of Hopper's paintings. Experts also believe that Gas represents a refuge as well for lonely people travelling through the night on a mission to get somewhere. Hopper has, in another marked trait characteristic of his paintings, worked on the lighting and colour effects.
The light from the station itself is bright, throwing that part of the area into relief. The petrol pumps stand out with their deep red colour, while the background trees appear impenetrable. The lone figure appears rather insignificant in the entire picture. It is not known whether this painting has been based on a specific petrol pump, but it is believed that it is an amalgamation of all the different pumps Hopper has seen. According to Hopper's wife, Jo's diary, the two of them drove around looking for petrol pumps in the twilight in order for Hopper to paint this picture. The painting today hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, USA. Gas is one example of where Hopper uses very few people and the objects of the gas station take the biggest role within the composition. The row of trees which dots across the background on the other side of the road make this location a fortunate discovery for the artist, with just enough detail to make the painting interesting, but without losing the types of atmosphere that were common within his work.
It is perhaps his most famous painting except for Nighthawks. One can easily imagine what may have been going on in the lighted office to the right of the work and it would be interesting to know the location of the gas station, and whether it is still in use or not. The mood throughout the career of Hopper is tranquility and a lack of activity other than with the main focus of each painting. Many sources within the media have made use of the inspirational work of Edward Hopper including films and television programmes. The artist is now well known internationally but he will always be most loved within America because of the style of his work and the way that it charmingly captures moments within American society of the past. Many will get their own memories from seeing his paintings and it is easy to understand why so many are still interested in his career, with them also serving as something of a historical record with the scenes that they deliver.
The larger image of the painting included below gives a far better indication of the palette and brushwork used by the artist. For example, one can make out the smart dress of the employee, with blue trousers and a brown waistcoat over a light blue shirt and dark blue tie. It reminds us of the fashion of the period. The reds tones of the pumps stand out remarkably, with large white lights sitting proudly lit on the top of each one. A sign for the petrol station hangs at the back of the forecourt, whilst two white wooden buildings stand to our right, though deliberately partially cropped from the painting. The larger building has a delightful red tower that leads up into the sky and the light is on inside, suggesting that this is the main store where petrol can be paid for and perhaps other items purchased. A shadow of light drifts in from the right, pointing to further buildings and also helping us to understand the time of day in which Gas was made. The overall artwork is just over a metre in width, and around 67cm in height, making it a large but still fairly manageable canvas which offers enough room for the detail, but without leaving areas too barren.
The surrounding landscape is also beautifully done. A row of green trees offer a wall of tone that sweeps across the canvas, with a further flash of light blue for the sky above. There is then an important use of pink and yellow tones for some grasses which cover much of the ground underneath the trees and is then repeated again in a small section on this side of the road. This adds a brightness that works well against the more standard colours and avoids that part of the painting becoming too dark (see the same in Cape Cod Morning). The road and floor of the forecourt are devoid of detail, looking clean and smart, just as the artist would typically serve up manmade items. This helps to create an atmosphere of space and calm which has made this artist's work just so unique. One can look at Gas and perhaps even imagine some music coming from the open door, as a shop continues to offer its services but with only fleeting supplies of customers popping in every now and again.
This enchanting artwork can now be found in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This impressive institution owns 18 Edward Hopper artworks in total, making it one of the largest public collections of his work anywhere in the world. Besides Gas, you will also discover a dozen etchings from his career as well as other original oil paintings such as Night Windows, New York Movie, House by the Railroad and also a watercolour titled Box Factory, Gloucester. This American gallery continue to serve up the finest American and European art and, naturally, Edward Hopper plays an important role within that, whilst also delivering art within his career which tells us about historical America. Aside from his own work, there is plenty else to see within one of the finest and most diverse selections of work to be found anywhere in the world. Visitors to New York City choose MoMA above all other options, meaning its number of annual visitors runs into the many millions, though there are several other significant galleries and museums to enjoy here too.
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.