House by the Railroad Edward Hopper Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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House by the Railroad may look like a traditional portrait of a house, but the stillness and melancholy are palpable in the painting. What was Edward Hopper's aim for painting the portrait, and what theme did he bring out in the artwork?

Edward Hopper created a House by the Railroad in 1925, and by 1930, the Museum of Modern Art acquired it as its first piece of art. It depicts a grand Victorian-style mansion by the railroad tracks that look worn and deserted. The stillness and lack of activity surrounding the house make it look haunted. Despite the bright midday light shining through the canvas, the tracks' lack of movement highlights the loneliness. The tracks also form a barrier that obscures the foundation and shield access to the Victorian mansion.

The House by the Railroad became the hallmark of Edward’s artistic career and was the first depiction of the existing tensions between the twentieth century and traditional culture. Edward used urban views, interior scenes and various portraits devoid of people to bring out the cultural tension and separations of the modern and traditional way of life. The utilisation of light is effective in elaborating the mood and antagonism in his artwork. While Edward insisted his paintings were factual with no emotional expression, a second glance at the paintings shows a deeper meaning to the artwork. For instance, in this artwork, the Victorian-style house is a cultural concept of a pre-industrial age building trapped between the old and new era.

The house is painted blue like the sky, creating a contrast with the rusty railroad tracks, portraying the existing conflict between nature and civilisation. Obstruction of the house by the tracks makes it look like the Victorian-style mansion is floating in the air and ready to topple with little confrontation. Hopper's artwork puts the tracks across the painting, making them disruptive in a subtle yet powerful way, further reflecting the impact of modernisation on the landscape. Hopper's imagination and buildings in New England inspired a house by the railroad painting. However, others claim the painting was a depiction of a house in Haverstraw, New York. The painting not only cemented the artist's painting career, but it also became an inspiration for the most influential thriller movies, Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock used the painting as an inspiration for Bates house in the movie and its sequels as Bates motel. The rundown and eerie look of the house created an abandoned and haunted setting for the horror film.

House by the Railroad in Detail Edward Hopper