Sunday Morning, 1930
Whole - 35 3/16 x 60 1/4 in. (89.4 x 153 cm)
Frame - 43 x 68 1/2 in. (109.2 x 174 cm)
Oil on canvas
Sunday Morning was acquired by the Whitney Museum within a few
months of its completion, the first Edward Hopper painting to
enter the Permanent Collection. It is still regarded as one of
Hopper's most evocative works, a paradigm of the solemn isolation
with which he imbued his city views and of the way in which he
distilled, rather than recorded, his subjects. In Early Sunday
Morning he copied an actual row of buildings on Seventh Avenue
in New York (the work was originally titled Seventh Avenue Shops).
But Hopper strove to generalize the site, avoiding the kind of
topical detail embraced by contemporaries like Reginald Marsh.
The lettering in the shop signs, for instance, is apparent, but
people are nowhere to be seen, evidence of the human presence
is everywhere. In the sequence of second-story windows, identical
in size, each aperture has been treated differently, as if reflecting
the individuality of its occupant. Hopper initially painted a
figure in one of these windows, but later painted it out. To create
a dramatic play of light and shadow, Hopper took larger liberties
with the original setting. The long shadow on the top of the building
and the dark bands across the sidewalk suggest an impossible position
for the sun on this north-south avenue. The variety of lighting
on the flat, frontal row of buildings is more theatrical than
real. In fact, these Seventh Avenue facades recall a theater set,
designed by Jo Mielziner, for Elmer Rice's Street Scene, a play
Hopper and his wife had attended the previous year. Hopper's willingness
to alter the photographic truths of a site reveals a concern with
form no less than with content. Indeed, Early Sunday Morning can
easily be viewed as a succession of verticals and horizontals
and a frieze of contrasted shadow and light. Many of the upper
windows have the appearance of miniature Mark Rothko paintings.
Given the fundamentally representational character of Hopper's
art, it is ironic that this work is equally admired for its stark
abstraction, painterly surfaces, and studiously constructed compositions.
Hopper's power as the quintessential twentieth-century American
realist is sustained by his mastery of formal pictorial construction.
Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021
Purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney
Sims, Patterson. Whitney Museum of American Art: Selected Works
from the Permanent Collection. New York, New York: Whitney
Museum of American Art, 1985, p.77.
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