One of Edward Hopper’s Vermont watercolors, White River at Sharon (1937), is now on view in Paris, in the major Hopper retrospective exhibition at the Grand Palais. It’s on loan from the Smithsonian American Art Museum until the end of January 2013, when it will return to its home in Washington, D.C.
Edward Hopper, White River at Sharon, 1937, watercolor and pencil on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the Sara Roby Foundation.
I’ve been wondering what the French think of this small painting–whether this modest watercolor and others of its ilk attract any attention among the scores of major Hopper works on display, including the iconic Nighthawks (1942) and Gas (1940). So I did a search to see if the Vermont watercolor received any notice in reviews of the Grand Palais show. Not surprisingly, I found no mention of it by critics or curators, but Googling nevertheless revealed that White River at Sharon is not a total stranger to the French. In 1995, a portion of this painting was used as the cover image for the French edition of Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America (La pêche à la truite en Amérique). Thus this Vermont watercolor may actually have had more popular exposure in France than in America!
I found this unexpected piece of Hopperabilia on a blog called “A propos de livres…“ The blogger writes that even before seeing the Grand Palais exhibition he was familiar with many of the paintings without knowing the name of the artist. He then presents the covers of some 50 books–French editions, all–that carry images of Hopper paintings. This is an amazing compilation, and I wonder if anyone has done this for American book covers. New research project, anyone?
By the way, Richard Brautigan’s novella, originally published in 1961 and a classic from the hippie era, has nothing to do with Vermont. But you can indeed fish for trout in the White River.
On another blog from Paris, Colleen wrote about seeing the exhibition and her impressions of “Hopper and the Continuation of the Impressionist Influence.” I wrote and asked if she’d seen White River at Sharon, and if she had any comments about this Vermont painting from the perspective of Paris. Today I had a wonderful reply from her. She returned to the exhibit specifically to see the painting, examined it closely, and asked other visitors for their comments, which she then reported to me in vivid detail. This is almost as good as being at the Grand Palais myself (perhaps better, since I don’t speak French and Colleen relayed the comments in English!). Our exhange of comments is below, and you can read her original commentary on “Colleen’s Paris Blog.” As a rejoinder perhaps I’ll ask some Vermonters to comment on Hopper’s paintings of the Seine.
From Colleen’s Paris Blog:
Bonnie Tocher Clause wrote:
I see that my recently published book, “Edward Hopper in Vermont,” is listed at the end of your blog; great! It includes reproductions of Hopper’s Vermont watercolors, and one of them, “White River at Sharon,” is in the Paris exhibit. Did you notice it? I’m curious to hear comments about it from the Parisian point of view.
Dear Ms. Clause, Standing close, far away, to the side, the watercolor, “White River at Sharon” attracts little attention. The attention is general in nature. The works in the room “Watercolors 1926-1937″ related to the audio guide and the wall explanation attract the visitors. Whispering, it is difficult to hear what visitors say about “White River…” so finally I ask.
Two French guys probably in their late 20s stand and look at the painting. They stand a while. I tell them about Jo’s notes (wife of Hopper) of a railroad track. Until reading that passage in your book online (Google books), I had seen nothing of interest in the work, only the nature.
Once I posed questions to the gentlemen, a group formed and listened as we conversed. The guard approached us, telling me that pointing at the paintings is not permitted. Perhaps she was afraid I would slip and put my finger on the art.
Once the line of the track is pointed out, they see the embankment. It now stands out among the nature. Otherwise, the watercolor held no particular interest for the visitors.
I leave and then return to the room as a fresh crowd enters.
A mother and daughter stand in front pointing to the upper right corner.
Questioning them, they notice the previously unnoticeable brown line. They have no idea of its meaning; however, they speculate.
The daughter presents the idea that Hopper paints stable, unmoving objects in all his other works. This painting is unusual for the movement of the trees, the clouds, the water lapping up against the rocks. The mother is interested and curious about the composition of the tree on the rock: leaves and green on one side, dead branches on the other.
The daughter is in preparatory studies for literature at university. They are looking for the literary in the paintings. In that frame of thinking, I suggest that perhaps the dead side of the tree points toward the railroad track and represents a road to nowhere; a road of inactivity, which leads to death.
I hope this is what you had in mind as to commentary on “White River at Sharon”. Colleen