The painting portrays a man, tending the yard outside of his house. He has a rake or similar tool in his hands. The yard is relatively bare, apart from a plant, with green foliage, in a large, brown vase. The man is staring at something we cannot see. This theme occurs frequently in Hopper’s work, with many paintings depicting people gazing, at something unknown, in the distance.
We can see the interior of his house, through a large front window. There appears to be a lamp by the window, and a picture on the wall. As with many of Hopper’s paintings, light plays an important role. The sunlight is shining directly on the man, and one side of the house, in contrast to the rest of the painting, which is shown in shadow. This gives the impression that it is, either, early morning or late evening.
Typical of much of his work, this picture does not tell a story but is a “snapshot” of a place and time. It is left to the viewer to imagine what is happening here.
Another recurring motif, in Hopper’s work, is loneliness. Many of his works feature a lone person staring out of a window, or sitting at a coffee table. In this painting the subject appears to be alone; there is no sign of life around him. Even the house does not appear welcoming, with most of the curtains closed, as if to keep out the rest of the world.
“Pennsylvania Coal Town” is a fine example of Hopper’s genius, depicting so much, in what at first, appears to be a simple painting.