Edward Hopper in Vermont … in New York


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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, VermontBarn 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!

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Hopper is BIG in New York! The super-sized image In Christie’s window, facing Rockefeller Plaza, is Hopper’s “October on Cape Cod,” sold in November 2012 for nearly $10 million. The original, an oil painting from 1946, is considerably more modest in size, at approximately 26 x 42 in.

Hopper’s White River: Living Up To Its Name

Edward Hopper didn’t visit Vermont in the winter (he hated cold weather), so he never saw the White River cloaked in snow and ice. His seven watercolors of the river landscape in Royalton, Bethel, and Sharon display the colors of late summer — grasses and trees with the yellowish tones that are a harbinger of autumn, pale blue waters rippled by wind, and the deep indigo shadows that mold the hills in the late afternoon.

Clause_FNL_web.jpgHopper’s First Branch of the White River, painted in 1938 in South Royalton, is the most intensely colorful of his Vermont landscapes.  This watercolor, in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, is the best-known of Hopper’s Vermont paintings. It was included in the 2007 – 2008 Edward Hopper exhibition — the most recent retrospective of Hopper’s works in the U.S. — which travelled from Boston to the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago, so you may have seen it in one of those venues. First Branch is also the most-often  published of the Vermont works, and it’s on the cover of my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont.

We think Hopper missed something of Vermont’s beauty by not being here in the winter.  So last week, after a few days of frigid weather (-16 degrees F, one morning…yes, that’s a minus sign!) we decided to take a ride up Route 110 to take a look at the First Branch of the White River as Hopper never saw it. Here are the results — and just click on the photos to see them full-size.

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Hopper sat on the hillside near the Slaters’ farmhouse to paint the First Branch. In 1938 the area was still in pasture, but now it’s densely overgrown, making it impossible to exactly re-create Hopper’s perspective. But in winter, with the leaves off the trees, you can just see the curve in the river from a spot on Ducker Road that’s close to the place where Hopper propped his stool and easel. As you move down the road a bit, toward Route 110, the bridge becomes visible, crossing the First Branch near the site of an old mill.

There’s no place to stop along Route 110 for a view of the First Branch, so we drove down to the bridge so I could shoot photos of the frozen river on the far side of the bend. Hopper was facing south, roughly, and I faced north, looking back toward the hillside where Hopper sat. The tall pines may be the same ones that are in Hopper’s painting, as these trees live to a ripe old age. The slabs of concrete in the river are probably from the foundation of the bridge that was there in Hopper’s time, remains of the landscape of 75 years ago. Within the river there’s a whole new landscape, albeit a temporary one, a microcosmic universe formed by the ice.
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While the sun was shining, we drove back up Ducker Road to take a look at the Slaters’ farm property in the snow.  I photographed an old sugar maple, one that may have been there before the land was subdivided and the new owner built this house.  Were it not for the structures,”Bob Slater’s Hill,” as Hopper called it, would be visible in the background, as it is in Hopper’s picture, Sugar Maple, from 1938.
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Edward Hopper, Sugar Maple






There was still enough daylight to catch one more of Hopper’s views of the White River looking white, so we drove southeast on Route 14 to the place shown in White River at Sharon.  I’d noted in a previous post about the French connection (“Hopper’s White River: The View from Paris”) that this spot is a swimming hole in the summer —  but no bathers were in sight on this January day!  The rock formations are now snow covered, but if you click on the image and look closely, you can see the match with Hopper’s watercolor — and there’s even a dead tree in the center of the outcrop.
Hopper's VT in Winter, Jan 2013 032Edward Hopper, White River at Sharon, 1937. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 21-3/4 x 29-3/4 in. Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.






This painting, by the way, is still in Paris. The Edward Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais was so successful that it was extended for an additional week, then stayed open round-the-clock to accommodate the anticipated 40,000 last-minute visitors! The exhibition closed on February 3, so in a few days this picture of the White River will be crated up and on its way back to its home in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.