A once grand Victorian Gothic house stands in the sun, slightly shabby and possibly abandoned. Windows are closed despite the heat, shades have been pulled untidily down to different levels and we can’t see a welcoming entrance.
A building that had been beautiful and desirable has become awkward and out of place. Nothing is visible of its grounds and there are no trees or greenery to soften the image.
What was formerly a grand family home has become obsolete. We wonder who would choose to live there and whether they have been left behind by progress.
Across the bottom of the painting runs the reason for the dereliction – the railroad. It cuts uncomfortably through the depiction of the house, making it impossible to ignore.
It represents unstoppable progress.
Light was of great importance to Hopper and in House by the Railroad the sun creates deep shadows over much of the building, while it bleaches the front and makes us imagine a stuffy interior.
The painting raises many questions. Who was the property built for and what was it like in its glory years? Where are those people now and have some of them been left behind in the house? How did they feel when the railroad came? Did they leave on the train? Did they look back?
Edward Hopper had a genius for showing us the cost of modern life and its effect on our spirit. He worked for a time creating posters for movie companies and his art often has the precise, stripped down quality of a film set.
Although sometimes referred to as poignant and desolating, House by the Railroad is one of Hopper's most famous and well-loved paintings. The depiction of modern life cutting through the past is still relevant today and it is an image which bears much reflection.