Edward Hopper in Vermont has surfaced in New York, and I’m happy to report that my book is now providing escape reading for Manhattanites. Ideally, come June, these folks will make a real escape from New York—as did Edward and Jo Hopper—and head north to Vermont, where Hopper’s Vermont drawings and watercolors will be on display at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. This will be the first return of these works to Vermont since Hopper made them, during various summers between 1927 and 1938.
Last Sunday, thanks to an invitation from Christie’s auction house in Rockefeller Center, I spoke to an appreciative audience of New Yorkers about my book and Hopper’s time in Vermont. Most of them were surprised—as are Vermonters—to hear this story and see my photos of the places that Hopper painted in the Green Mountains. Actually, though, if affiliation were based on longevity of residence, many of Hopper’s Vermont watercolors would have to be considered New Yorkers.
At least seven of the Vermont watercolors have been in New York ever since Hopper unpacked them from the trunk of his car, returning to the city after summers in New England. These paintings were still in Hopper’s studio after Edward and Jo Hopper died–in 1967 and ’68, respectively–and consequently they were part of the Josephine N. Hopper Bequest to the Whitney Museum of American Art. They remain in the Whitney today, emerging from time to time to appear in the pages of the annual desk or wall calendars, but rarely (if ever) exhibited. Happily, all of them will travel together from New York to Vermont this summer, joining their “siblings” for the Middlebury exhibit.
Another of the Vermont watercolors, Barn and Silo, Vermont, painted in 1927 during Hopper’s first trip to Vermont, also became a permanent resident of the Big Apple. It was purchased almost immediately after Hopper delivered it to the Frank K. M. Rehn Galleries, along with other watercolors from that summer’s trip, to Cape Elizabeth and Portland in Maine and the Bellows Falls area in Vermont. The buyer was Lesley G. Shaefer, a New York stockbroker who was on an art-buying spree during the economic boom that preceded the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Shaefer paid $300 for Barn and Silo; Rehn took a one-third commission, and Hopper received $200. [Compare this with the $1.7+ million price realized for Barn at Essex, a Hopper watercolor from 1929, auctioned at Christie’s in November 2012!]
Barn and Silo, Vermont remained hidden away in Shaefer’s New York abode until 1973, when it was part of his widow’s unexpected bequest of antiques and fine art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Hopper watercolor has been on display only briefly at the Met and otherwise has been exhibited just once, in 1989 at the Musée Cantini in Marseille, France. Like White River at Sharon, which was in the recent Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, Barn and Silo has traveled to France but it has never been shown in Vermont. This gap it its resume will be corrected in May, when it will return for the exhibit at Middlebury.
Oddly enough, the Metropolitan Museum published a poster of Barn and Silo, Vermont in 1995, even though the painting was in storage at the time, unavailable for viewing by visitors to the museum. Years later, however, this poster served a fortuitous purpose for me: It was my initial tip-off to the connection between Edward Hopper and Vermont. The Met’s Barn and Silo, Vermont, the poster reproduction, now hangs in a place of honor in our South Royalton home. Hopper’s Barn and Silo, Vermont, the original watercolor, will travel from New York to Middlebury in May, returning for the first time to its birthplace of more than 85 years ago.
I’ll write more about the back stories of Hopper’s Vermont paintings — the New Yorkers and the ones that reside in other places throughout the country — as we get closer to May and the opening of the Middlebury exhibit. Stay tuned!