Writing yesterday about Henry Beston and his year in the Outermost House on Cape Cod, I was reminded that another fugitive from the city who built a house on the dunes to the north of the Outermost House, was the painter Edward Hopper. He and his fellow-artist wife Josephine Nivison built their summer studio house in South Truro in 1934. ‘It’s just a summer cottage, as primitive as the land it’s in’, Josephine wrote.
Hopper spent nearly 40 of his 84 summers in Truro and the paintings he did there, especially from the 1930s, mark an important stage in his work: isolated buildings in broad vistas are meditations on form and colour that steer toward the abstract while remaining figurative.
Like the bare, open land that once was here, Hopper’s Cape works are unadorned. Luminous liquid light bathes simple shapes…Hopper painted structures: rough-hewn barns and hen coops, pitched-roof saltboxes, churches, Truro’s lighthouse, a tiny train station, and fishermen’s shacks on dunes. In ‘Cape Cod Evening’ (1939) a couple seems unaware of each other; only their collie is alert, as Hopper noted, ‘listening to a whippoorwill or some evening sound’. And there are Hopper’s nautical paintings — young shirtless lads in the streamlined beauty of sloops, white sails, brilliant blue sea.
Seen from the beach below, ‘House on Dune Edge’ (1930) looms against a small sky; bright sunlight hits the curved facade, but one is drawn to the mysterious, deep shadows on the porch… Hopper’s paintings of Cape roads, such as ‘Road and Trees’ (1962), ‘Route 6, Eastham’ (1941) and ‘Gas’ (1940), inspired film motifs and particularly director Wim Wenders, who said, “The paintings of Edward Hopper are always the beginnings of a story.”
Hopper liked to work alone. He painted at the same time of day to capture similar light. ..On the Cape he found movement and drama in the interplay of solitude, architecture and light. And something more: His paintings are infused with a traveller’s yearning to discover what’s around the bend – what’s going to happen next? The storytelling. “If you could say it in words,” he said, “there would be no reason to paint.” -Patricia Dempsey, Washington Post, March 29, 2009
Here’s a small gallery of Edward Hopper’s Cape Cod paintings: