Edward Hopper's Rooms by the Sea (1951) was based on his studio on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Its style is entirely typical of the approach that he used right across his career.
Described as the view he would have seen out the back door of his studio, it was a literal representation of silence and solitude. Edward Hopper at a young age was fascinated by light recalling a time when he first noticed the difference in light with one side being brighter than the other, this becoming a major theme in his art. However his influence didn't stop there, he would discuss with peers about what an empty room would look like when no one was around. The idea of an empty room could present presence and it would be this thought that would stick with him for his entire life which is also seen in Sun in an Empty Room.
With its surrealistic feel, Rooms by the Sea generates an uncomfortable feel of crisis, with one side a generic room glared with boring tones and the other side filled with energy that is swallowed in sunlight tempting anyone to jump. Fitting as the original title was "Rooms by the Sea. Alias the Jumping Off Place". Edward Hopper's Rooms by the Sea was the staple of a man with vision and an understanding of the world, it was his amateurish paintings that was his charm and as critic Clement Greenberg stated, "Hopper happens to be a bad painter. But if he were better, he would, most likely, not be so superior an artist". Just as Van Gogh had done, Edward Hopper used objects as a portrait for himself and using his surroundings as a metaphor for how he sees his own world, creating intimate art works that only he knew what it meant. This style means Edward Hopper's Rooms by the Sea still generates wonder and debate.
This was an artist who liked us to focus on mood more than detail. He would reduce scenes down to the barest of details and would rarely feature more than just a few individuals. Any figures would typically be visually separate and this would be done for a variety of different purposes. Within Rooms by the Sea, of course, there are no figures at all, and just a suggestion of humanity with various items found within the relatively bare room. Lighting was important in Hopper's paintings and here he drapes sharp planes of life on two walls, so as to underline, even exaggerate, the positive nature of the outdoor surroundings. By contrast the human figures within his work would often hold negative, disconnected body language which spoke of a changing American culture. He would also compare humanity with nature, a topic which feels particularly relevant in the present day.
Rooms by the Sea appears to place the artist's home far higher than the level of the sea, so would it have been on a hill closeby, or has he in fact adapted reality in order to achieve this look. Elements of the perspective do seem slightly out of sync with what we might expect. Some have argued that the artist is deliberately exaggerating the different between indoors and outdoors within this painting, contrasting comfort and control with the wild and unknown outdoors. There is also a freedom to be seen outdoors, with a wealth of water that offers tranquility but also the bright sun which makes its way into the house from the right hand side. The angles of the light that show through the door onto the wall in front of us do not seem to be quite right, but most looking at the piece for the first time will not notice nor question the angles used by the artist here. There is always a fine line between accidental technical errors, and purposeful alterations from reality in order to underline a certain point, leaving us to sit around debating these items.
The painting itself is in a fairly standard size for the artist of around a metre in width, and 75cm approximately in height. These dimensions allowed Hopper to impress us with detail and bright colours, but without leaving so much space that parts of his compositions would start to appear empty. He would never go much beyond that and kept fairly safe with his work once a clear style had been established. It may even have been that this painting served as a symbol of him playing safe within the comfort of his own home, whilst the wild seas to the right offered great opportunities for other artists who were perhaps more willing to jump in and take a chance. That said, his approach has proven extremely popular with the public who find his work accessible and relaxed, taking us all back to a time of simplicity and happiness, or so our memories would promise. He created Rooms by the Sea in 1951, by which time he was approaching his seventies and thoroughly established and comfortable in the work that he was producing.
This artwork can now be found at the Yale University Art Gallery and to this day most of Edward Hopper's paintings are still located somewhere within the US. Some might argue that his oeuvre is actually more loved by the public than it is academics, with some qualified judges suggesting that his technical ability does not quite match up with the fame that his career has enjoyed. The public are not concerned about that, though, and simply adore the atmospheric paintings that he produced across his career which help us all to transport ourselves back in time to the US of several decades ago. Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail by Albert Bierstadt, A Game of Croquet by Winslow Homer, Mt Ktaadn by Frederic Edwin Church and Elizabeth Storer Smith by John Singleton Copley are just a few of the highlights to be found in this fine gallery. They also own another item from Hopper's career, namely Western Motel.
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.