Edward Hopper’s Back from Tahiti…Next Stop, Dorset, Vermont!

Paul Gauguin Cruise, Sept 2014 776Edward Hopper and I are back in Vermont, after a wonderful cruise in French Polynesia on the M/S Paul Gauguin. Hopper accompanied me — well, virtually, at least — on my Kindle.  I was happy to also find him in the onboard library, his New England lighthouse holding its own among works by the ship’s namesake and the French Impressionists.

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We are now once again landlocked, and I’m looking forward to giving a presentation about Edward Hopper in Vermont for the Dorset Historical Society on Thursday, October 16. Dorset has great significance for the history of art in Vermont, as the locus for a small group of artists called the Dorset Painters, the founders of what became Vermont’s first art colony.  The Dorset Painters and their annual exhibitions morphed into what became — and is still — the Southern Vermont Arts Center, in nearby Manchester.

There’s no evidence that I know of that Edward and Josephine Hopper ever visited Dorset or Manchester, although a number of the Hoppers’ artist friends from New York went there to paint in the summers — indeed, were in residence there during the same period as the Hoppers’ visits to the Green Mountain State, between 1927 and 1938.  Reginald Marsh, a longtime New York colleague of Edward’s, often visited Dorset after marrying his second wife, Felicia, daughter of Herbert Meyer, one of the founding members of the Dorset Painters.  In New York, Felicia Meyer Marsh and Jo Hopper became empathetic friends, sharing the common fate of being female artists whose work was overshadowed by their husbands. 

But while the Marshes and other colleagues and friends may have inspired the Hoppers’ various trips into Vermont, it seems most likely that the solitary and relatively unsocial Edward purposely avoided the colony life of Dorset and Manchester. Instead, he chose the relative quiet and anonymity of South Royalton, where his extended visits seem to have gone almost entirely without notice or unwanted attention.

On October 16, in my presentation for the Dorset Historical Society, I’ll talk about the early Vermont / New York associations and the Dorset / Manchester connections, albeit indirect, with Edward Hopper.  I hope you’ll join me for this lunchtime talk — on what promises to be a beautiful autumn day in Vermont!

Thursday 16 October 2014
12:00 p.m.
Dorset Historical Society
Edward Hopper in Vermont
Book Talk & Slide Presentation

Edward and Jo Hopper first discovered the scenic beauty of Vermont in 1927, traveling there again in 1935 and 1936 in their continuing search for new places to paint. During these trips and two extended sojourns in South Royalton, in 1937 and ’38, Edward Hopper produced some two dozen paintings, watercolors that are among the most distinctive of his regional works. Author Bonnie Tocher Clause will tell the story of Hopper’s visits to Vermont and the sites depicted in his singular interpretations of the region. For the Dorset audience, Clause will also discuss Hopper’s connections with some of the Southern Vermont Artists of the 1920s and ’30s–although Hopper himself did not venture into this area of Vermont

This talk is part of the Dorset Historical Society‘s Third Thursday lunch series.  Edward Hopper in Vermont (University Press of New England, 2012) will be available for purchase and signing.

Location:
Dorset Historical Society / Bley House
Route 30 at Kent Hill Road
Dorset, Vermont 05251
802-867-0331

“Edward Hopper in Vermont” in Stockbridge, Massachusetts

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Edward Hopper, “Bob Slater’s Hill,” 1938. Watercolor on paper, 13.5 x 19.5 in. Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, West Virginia. Gift of Ruth Woods Dayton.

Thursday 14 August 2014
5:30 p.m.
NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM
Edward Hopper in Vermont”
An Evening with Bonnie Tocher Clause

This talk is part of the Thursday evening series at the Norman Rockwell Museum exploring the life and art of Edward Hopper, whose career as an illustrator is highlighted in the NRM’s current exhibition, The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator.  A reception follows each program. Free with Museum admission.

Edward and Jo Hopper first discovered the scenic beauty of Vermont in 1927, traveling there again in 1935 and 1936 in their continuing search for new places to paint. During these trips and two extended sojourns on a farm in South Royalton, in 1937 and ’38, Edward Hopper produced some two dozen paintings—watercolors that are among the most distinctive of his regional works. Author Bonnie Tocher Clause will tell the story of Hopper’s visits to Vermont and the sites depicted in his singular interpretations of the region. Edward Hopper in Vermont (University Press of New England, 2012) will be available for purchase and signing.

Location:
Norman Rockwell Museum
9 Route 183
Stockbridge, MA 01262
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Hopper’s Vermont in Washington, D.C.

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Edward Hopper, White River at Sharon. 1937, watercolor and pencil, 21 3/4 x 29 3/4 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation .

This week I spent a couple of delightful days in Washington, D.C., doing research in the Archives of American Art and paying a visit to one of Edward Hopper’s Vermont watercolors, White River at Sharon (1937). This work is now on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, until August 17, in the exhibition Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection

White River at Sharon is reproduced in my book, but this was the first time I’d seen the original painting, as the Smithsonian would not loan it for last summer’s Edward Hopper in Vermont exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. Like most art museums, SAAM has a policy that watercolors can only be displayed — and exposed to light — intermittently and for limited periods of time. When Middlebury asked to borrow White River at Sharon, it had just been returned to lightless storage, after being “out” for many months in the major Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, France. I understand the reason for the rule, of course, but I was nevertheless perturbed that the Smithsonian would send this painting to France but not to Vermont — where it still has never been exhibited.

Thus I was very glad to finally be able to see the original, pulled out of storage for the Smithsonian’s own exhibition this summer.  I’m happy to report that the colors are still strong and true (and I have to admit that yes, the pristine appearance of this 77-year-old watercolor does indeed justify the restrictive display policy!). The water is as blue as it is in prints from the 1960s. I was relieved to see this, as more recent reproductions, including that on the SAAM web site, have a oddly purplish tinge, unlike any color seen in nature, at least in Vermont.

Hopper’s rendering of the water is a marvel; you can almost feel the breeze that’s ruffling the surface.
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July 2014 LBI & Washington, DC 111Hopper also captured the distinctive cloud formations and cool light associated with the weather of early fall, preceding a storm. Interestingly, here Hopper used white paint to give the clouds some additional texture, whereas in others of the Vermont watercolors the clouds are simply unpainted white paper, shaped by the blue of the surrounding sky.

There’s much in this small painting that you can’t see in the reproductions, or even in my closeup photos here, so it’s worth a trip to the SAAM to see it, especially for watercolorists. At the same time you can see a wonderful Hopper oil, Cape Cod Morning, exhibited on the wall just opposite White River at Sharon. Seen together, these two works show something of the incredible range of Hopper’s talents and versatility.

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Edward Hopper, Cape Cod Morning. 1950, oil on canvas 34 1/8 x 40 1/4 in. (86.7 x 102.3 cm.) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation 1986.6.92 Smithsonian American Art Museum 1st Floor, West Wing.

From her perspective in this exhibition, Hopper’s Cape Cod woman can see all the way to Vermont…
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Retracing Edward Hopper’s Path on the Road to Tunbridge, Vermont

UPDATE:  Click here for a link to a Google map with locations of Hopper’s sites in the White River Valley, labeled with the titles of the paintings.

Visitors to this weekend’s Vermont History Expo, on the grounds of the Tunbridge World’s Fair, will be driving past some of the places associated with Edward Hopper’s visits to Vermont in 1937 and ’38.  To facilitate a quest, here’s a brief guide, with photos, for locating “Hopper’s places” along Route 110 between South Royalton and Tunbridge.

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Jacked illustration: Edward Hopper (1882-1962), First Branch of the White River, Vermont, 1938. Watercolor over graphite pencil on paper, 21-3/4 x 26-7/8 in. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hopper’s First Branch of the White River (1938) — the watercolor that graces the cover of my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont — shows the big curve in Route 110 that mirrors the bend in the river below.  To paint this picture Hopper perched on the hillside above Route 110, near the intersection with Ducker Road,  but the slope is now so heavily overgrown that it’s impossible to recreate his exact perspective.  If you drive up Ducker Road and look back, however, you can just catch a glimpse of the First Branch.  Look for the bridge that crosses the river a bit to the south.  Stand on the bridge deck and in the riverbed below you’ll see the remains of the bridge that appears in Hopper’s painting.  Look beyond to see the bend in the river.

Route 110 and Ducker Road, South Royalton, Vermont. Photograph © Bonnie T. Clause 2010.

Just to the north of the curve in Route 110 is the Slaters’ farmhouse, where Edward and Jo Hopper boarded in 1937 and ’38.  Originally called Wagon Wheels, the farm property has been broken up and sold to various owners; the farmhouse is now divided into apartments that are usually rented to students at the Vermont Law School (located in South Royalton).  Later this summer a historic site marker will be placed on the lawn, commemorating the practice of farmers accommodating tourists — including the Hoppers — during the Great Depression. (And in 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt slept here, while visiting Camp William James, an offshoot of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Tunbridge.)

EDWARD HOPPER SLEPT HERE!

Farmhouse, formerly known as Wagon Wheels, Route 110, South Royalton, Vermont. Photograph © Bonnie T. Clause 2010.

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Farmhouse at Wagon Wheels, South Royalton, late 1930s, looking north from the hillside along Route 110. Photo courtesy of Robert Alan Slater.

On the northeast edge of the Slaters’ farm property is Jigger Hill, which forms the boundary between South Royalton and Tunbridge.  Hopper dubbed it “Bob Slater’s Hill” and gave this title to his watercolor. He painted the hill from the field directly behind and above the farmhouse.  To replicate his view, just drive up Ducker Road and use a zoom lens, as I did, to shoot across the field from the edge of the property (no trespassing in the field!).

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Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Bob Slater’s Hill. Watercolor on paper, 13.5 x 19.5 in. Huntington Museum of Art, Huntington, West Virginia.

Jigger Hill, South Royalton, Vermont. Photograph © Bonnie T. Clause, 2010.

In Jo Hopper’s sketchbook is a rough drawing labeled “Big hill at line bet. S. Royalton & Tunbridge – tawny color – clumps of dark masses. Line of willows following stream along foot of hill. Make big canvas.”  Neither Edward or Jo, as far as I know, made a large painting of this scene, but both Jo’s sketch and Edward’s watercolor record their interest in “Bob Slater’s Hill,” the most prominent feature of the landscape that they gazed upon daily during their two month-long sojourns at the South Royalton farm.

I found a photocopy of Jo’s sketchbook in the archives of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York several years ago, while searching for any mention of Vermont in the files of the Edward and Josephine Hopper Research Collection.  I was so thrilled to find Jo’s sketches with the handwritten notations of “S. Royalton” and “Tunbridge” that I broke the library’s silence with an exclamation of glee — surely a reaction to these scribbles that no one else has experienced, before or since!

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Barn in Tunbridge, Vermont; view from Route 110. Photograph © Bonnie T. Clause 2010.

Even more exciting, when Mike and I returned to Vermont we found that “Jo’s barns” are still there, alongside Route 110 about halfway between Wagon Wheels farm and the Tunbridge town center. I took the photo above from a roadside pull-off place that affords a view exactly duplicating Jo’s of a “dark-colored barn…L. of road.”  We realized that the Hoppers must have parked their Buick in the very same place — more than 75 years ago. Once again, we imagined that we were indeed tracing the Hoppers’ path through our part of Vermont, with Mike at the wheel, like Edward, and me in the passenger seat, like Jo, recording the scenes that captured the Hoppers’ fancy as they scouted for places to paint.

Note:  Jo Hopper’s sketchbook remains in private hand, and I’ve not been able to obtain permission from the owners to reproduce any of the sketches that I describe here and in my book (pages 37-38, 62, 79-82, 84). To my knowledge, the Vermont sketches have not been published elsewhere, but other pages from Jo’s sketchbook are reproduced in J. Anton Schiffenhaus, Silent Light–Silent Life: A Window into the World of Edward and Josephine Hopper, Provincetown, MA, 1996.

Edward Hopper in Tunbridge

The town of Tunbridge, Vermont, is just a few miles north of South Royalton and Wagon Wheels Farm, where Edward and Josephine Hopper sojourned in the summers of 1937 and ’38.  The White River, the subject of seven of Edward’s Vermont watercolors, runs through Tunbridge, but there are no known Hopper paintings or drawings of the river in that locale.  It is clear, however, that the Hoppers drove up Route 110 toward Tunbridge, scouting for places to paint.  From the passenger seat of their Buick, Jo Hopper sketched several barns, labeling them as along the “Tunbridge Road.”  Although Jo’s sketches were never turned into paintings, the  structures that captured the Hoppers’ interest are still there. They are immediately recognizable as the barns in Jo’s rough drawings, remaining as a visual link between Tunbridge and Edward and Josephine Hopper, and to me, a reminder of the Hoppers’ time in Vermont.

Vermont Histoy ExpoThis weekend, June 21 and 22, the Hoppers return to Tunbridge — figuratively, at least — for the Vermont History Expo.  On Sunday, at 11:00 a.m.,  I’ll be speaking in the authors’ tent about my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont, certainly a perfect fit for this year’s Expo theme: “Artists and Artisans:  Vermont’s Creative Heritage.”  See the full roster of the History Expo’s talks by Vermont authors, on both Saturday and Sunday, here.  This wonderful two-day celebration of history and creativity will showcase many of Vermont’s fine artists and craftspeople, past and present, including  folk artist Lee Hull of South Royalton. The beautiful artwork for the Expo poster (below) was donated by Vermont artist Anne Cady.

ExpoPosterDateOnly_webAnd there’s another Hopper connection at the Expo.  The state’s Historic Sites Division will display a new roadside marker to be placed near the intersection of Route 110 and Ducker Road, on the lawn of the farmhouse formerly known as Wagon Wheels.  With the heading “Tourists Accommodated,” the maker commemorates the practice of farmers taking in paying guests as a source of extra income during the Great Depression.  The Hoppers are listed as among the famous guests who stayed at Wagon Wheels, as is Eleanor Roosevelt. 

I’ll write more about the marker and post photos when it’s installed at the site, later this summer.  Meanwhile, be sure to see it if you go to the Expo, and I hope you’ll also come to hear my talk.  This time my focus will be about what I learned about Vermont history while researching the context of Hopper’s Vermont paintings. In other words, I’ll be talking about Hopper’s art as history.  See you on the grounds of the Tunbridge World’s Fair!

 

 

A Rare Exhibition of Jo Hopper’s Watercolors

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Josephine Nivison Hopper, watercolor in exhibition at Edward Hopper House Art Center, 2014. Photo courtesy of Kurt Ekberg.

Paintings by Josephine Nivison Hopper (1883 – 1968) are on display at the Edward Hopper House Art Center in Nyack, New York, until June 15. The exhibition, curated by art historian Elizabeth Thompson Colleary, includes watercolors from the Sanborn Collection. This is a wonderful chance to see Jo’s work, rarely displayed, and to visit Edward’s boyhood home, overlooking the Hudson River.

Whenever I speak about Edward Hopper in Vermont, members of the audience want to hear more about Jo — in fact, I hear more questions about Jo than about her famous husband.  Of course Jo is a big part of my story about the Hoppers’ sojourns in Vermont, as she is an essential element of any story about Edward; one simply can’t write or talk about him without acknowledging Jo’s significant role in all aspects of his life, career, and legacy.  From the time of their marriage, in 1924, the two were together constantly.  Jo served as Edward’s muse and model, prodding him on when he was unable to paint.  Her notes in the Ledger Books — including descriptions of Edward’s paintings and details of their sales — are invaluable records of the progress of his career.  Her loquacious letters and diaries are richly detailed accounts of the couple’s life and travels, or “wherebouts,” as Jo put it.  Indeed, without Jo’s voice we would know precious little about the notoriously silent Edward. Unfortunately, Jo’s own career as an artist foundered after her marriage to Edward.  Although she kept on painting throughout her life, much of her work has been lost.
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To find out more about Jo see my post about “Life Before Edward” and read the articles listed at the end.  Thanks to Megan Lawlor, an artist who came to my talk at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts on April 30, I’ve added another reference, American Women Modernists, a book about the  women artists, including Josephine Verstille Nivison, who studied with Robert Henri.  This book includes reproductions of a number of Jo’s paintings that were left to the Whitney Museum of American Art by Jo’s friend and legatee, Felicia Meyer Marsh.

And if you possibly can, go to Hopper House to see Jo’s paintings — in a one-woman show that would surely be thrilling to her. 

At PAFA in Philadelphia, April 30: Edward Hopper’s Vermont

I’m delighted to announce that next Wednesday, April 30, I’ll be giving a presentation on Edward Hopper’s Vermont watercolors in Philadelphia, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  PAFA is the oldest art museum and school in the nation, and it’s a great honor to be invited to speak there, in the Historic Landmark Building designed by renowned architects Frank Furness and George W. Hewitt.  All details about my talk are given below and on the PAFA web site.

There are strong connections between the Academy and Edward Hopper.  His work was shown in PAFA’s annual exhibitions nearly every year between 1922 and the early 1950s. Further, five of the Vermont watercolors — rarely exhibited anywhere — were shown at PAFA between 1939 and 1941, in the Annual Philadelphia Water Color Exhibitions.  In 1925 PAFA was the first museum to purchase a Hopper oil painting, Apartment Houses (1923), which it still owns. (A second Hopper oil, East Wind Over Weehawken, purchased in 1952, was sold by PAFA last December…but that’s another story.) 

As reported in Gail Levin’s Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, Josephine Nivison Hopper was also recognized by the Academy, albeit fleetingly.  In 1938 her painting of Cape Cod Hills (or Sandy Hills) was included in PAFA’s Annual Exhibition, a rare public acknowledgement of her talent that was doubled by the presence in the same show of Edward’s oil, Jo Painting

This Friday, in preparing for my talk, I’m visiting PAFA’s archives for the first time.  I hope to find a few more details about the Hoppers’ connections with this venerable Philadelphia institution, and if so, I’ll include them in my talk.  All are welcome — and it’s free!

Wednesday 30 April 2014
12:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts / Art at Lunch
Edward Hopper as Plein Air Painter: Watercolors of Vermont, 1927-38

Edward Hopper is often characterized as the quintessential painter of urban scenes. In contrast, Hopper’s watercolors—made outdoors during summers spent away from the city—reveal other aspects of the artist’s talents and persona. Bonnie Tocher Clause, author of Edward Hopper in Vermont, shows slides of drawings and watercolors Hopper created during visits to the rural White River Valley in the 1930s. These works were last seen at PAFA seven decades ago, when they were among Hopper’s submissions to the Annual Philadelphia Water Color and Print Exhibitions in 1939-41.

Location: Hamilton Auditorium in PAFA’s Historic Landmark building
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA
  *Free; no reservation required.*
Information: dsmith@pafa.org or 215-972-2022

Edward Hopper and the Elephant: A Conversation in Shelburne, VT

*Watch the video on Vermont’s Regional Educational Television Network (RETN) or on YouTube.*

Next Wednesday, March 26, I’ll be in Shelburne, Vermont, talking about my work with commentator Fran Stoddard and another Vermont author, Tracey Campbell Pearson.  This event is the second installment in a Community Conversation Series with Vermont Authors that’s co-sponsored by the Shelburne Museum, Shelburne Farms, the Pierson Library, and All Souls Interfaith Gathering (ASIG).  The focus of the conversation on March 26 is ART. 

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elephant-frontjacket-copyright-2013Tracey-Campbell-PearsonOf course I’ll be talking about my take on the work of Edward Hopper, and Tracey will be discussing her work as the writer and illustrator of a multitude of children’s books — the most recent of which will be “the Elephant in the Room”!

As for Fran, we expect her to exercise her usual artistry in finding the commonalities between two seemingly disparate authors, and between Edward Hopper in Vermont and Elephant’s Story.   Please join us for an engaging conversation, in ASIG’s beautiful facility overlooking Lake Champlain.

Vermont Authors
Community Conversation Series with Fran Stoddard
Wednesday, March 26
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.
ASIG / 291 Bostwick Farm Road / Shelburne, VT
ART, with authors Bonnie Tocher Clause and Tracey Campbell Pearson
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See the series poster, below — but note that the session on “NATURE” has been rescheduled to April 2.

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Mr. Hopper Goes to Washington, D.C., for a Residency in the Oval Office

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President Barak Obama looks at the Edward Hopper paintings now displayed in the Oval Office, on loan from the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Edward Hopper is in the Oval Office…and isn’t it about time?  It’s surprising to me that it’s taken this long for the most iconic of American artists to appear on this particular national stage. The two Hopper oils, dating from the early to mid-1930s, are on loan to the White House from the Whitney Museum of American Art. You can read the complete press release from the Whitney Museum here.

Cobb’s Barns, South Truro and Burly Cobb’s House show structures owned by the Hoppers’  Cape Cod neighbor, Burleigh Cobb  (Jo’s spelling of the name was carried forward in the title assigned to the painting). These works came to the Whitney after the Hoppers’ deaths (Edward in 1967, and Jo less than a year later) in the bequest to the Museum of their entire artistic estates, including all of the works that remained in the Hoppers’ studios, unsold. But why Hopper never signed these two beautiful paintings — and apparently never released them to the Rehn Galleries for sale — remains a mystery, yet another puzzle from the enigmatic Mr. Hopper.

“Burly” Cobb’s house and farm buildings were a frequent subject for Hopper, appearing in at least one other oil and five watercolors painted between 1930 and 1937. The architectural geometry of this complex of rural structures had clear appeal for him. The farm’s proximity to his summer home also afforded opportunities for observation and plein air painting at various times of day and season, from early summer into the autumn, and this is reflected in the range in  quality and intensity of light, shadow, color, and tonality in the Cobb farm paintings.

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Edward Hopper. Burly Cobb’s House, South Truro. Oil, 1930-33. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Hopper’s interest in rural architecture was manifest during his initial forays into Vermont, in 1927, when he made five finished watercolors of barns and farm buildings. In 1937 and ’38, during the Hoppers’ stays on Wagon Wheels Farm in South Royalton, however, while Jo made rough pencil sketches of barns along the road leading to Tunbridge, Edward painted only one such structure — the Slaters’ sugar house.  This rustic building is observed from the same perspective as that of the Cobb farm paintings, looking down on the roof from the slope above.

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Edward Hopper, Vermont Sugar House, 1938. Watercolor on paper. Private collection.

With Vermont Sugar House, Hopper’s fascination with rural architecture seems to have run its course; as Jo might have put it, he had “exhausted” this subject. Hopper did one more watercolor of the Cobb house, in 1942, but by then — the year after Nighthawks — his focus had moved elsewhere.