Hopper’s “Horse and Vermont Barn”: Where is it now?

Horse and Vermont Barn-page-001 One of Edward Hopper’s watercolors from 1927, Horse and Vermont Barn, alternatively titled Near the Connecticut River, Bellows Falls, Vermont, has gone missing – or, perhaps more accurately stated, I haven’t been able to locate it.  This painting was last seen in the late 1970s, when it was purchased by a private collector from the Kennedy Galleries in New York, and neither Kennedy’s Martha Fleischman nor any of the other dealers or museum personnel I spoke with during the course of writing my book have been able to tell me who the buyer was, or, more important, who owns it now.  The image that appears as plate 5 in my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont, was scanned from the Kennedy Galleries catalog for their 1979 exhibition, The Eyes of America: Art from 1792 to 1979.  The painting was also reproduced in black-and-white in the New Yorker magazine for May 7, 1979, advertising the exhibition and sale.
The New Yorker, May 07, 1979-page-001

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We do know the identity of the original owner of Horse and Vermont Barn, thanks to Jo Hopper’s notes in the Ledger Book. She recorded that this watercolor was purchased in 1960 by William H. Bender, Jr., from Hopper’s dealer, the Rehn Galleries, some 33 years after Hopper painted it.  At that point the Hoppers were apparently having some difficulty remembering exactly where, and when, Hopper made this watercolor, as evidenced by the changes and corrections in the record.  See my book for a transcription of the Ledger Book notes and more details about this transaction and the subsequent correspondence between William Bender and Edward Hopper.

Horse and Vermont Barn
is reproduced in the Catalogue Raisonné of Hopper’s works, and so it is possible that Gail Levin had contact with the owner in the 1980s during the course of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The files in the Whitney archives relating to ownership are restricted, however, and thus I did not have access to this information, nor did I otherwise find any clues about the painting’s whereabouts since its sale from the Kennedy Galleries.

Last winter, when Hopper’s Vermont works were being gathered for the exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, the Whitney turned up an unexpected treasure:  Hopper’s preparatory drawing for Horse and Vermont Barn.  This fascinating drawing was identified among the thousands of items that the Whitney acquired through the Josephine N. Hopper Bequest.  Not previously published or exhibited, this preliminary study provides a clear record of Hopper’s process in developing the composition of the corresponding watercolor. The drawing shows two horses, as opposed to the single equine that Hopper placed as a dominant feature in the foreground of the painting. The long horizontal line of barns has been shortened and simplified in the watercolor, while still extending beyond the frame of the image, and the background profile of the hills has been modified so that the rooflines are silhouetted against the sky. The long vertical pole has been entirely eliminated.  You can view the drawing juxtaposed with the painting in my article, “Finding Edward Hopper’s Vermont,” in the Spring  2013 issue of Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.  Click here to see the article and reproductions online on the AFA web site.

In my next post I’ll write more about this drawing and the others that Hopper made in Vermont — the five that were in the Middlebury exhibition and two more that are in private hands. In the meantime, please keep your eyes peeled for Hopper’s Horse and Vermont Barn, and be sure to let me know if you find it!

If Edward Hopper Had Been in Australia…

Australia 2012 168Architect Louis Kahn wrote a wonderful tribute to Jørn Utzon, architect of  the Sydney Opera House: “The sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building.”

I photographed the plaque with Kahn’s words in the Sydney Opera House last spring, when we visited Australia and New Zealand. The quote was an unexpected reminder of Edward Hopper, who famously said that all he wanted to do was to “paint sunlight on the side of a house.”

This got me wondering:  If Hopper had ever gotten to Australia, what would he have painted?  I think that he would have liked the Sydney Opera House, not only for its reflective surfaces but also because of the sail-like roofs and its location — seemingly floating in Sydney Harbor. And he would have been able to get the magnificent Sydney Harbor Bridge in the same frame!

And Jo would have loved the koalas, the wallabies, and the kangaroos….

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Hopper’s White River Places: Autumn Version

This week I roamed along the White River with my camera, in my ongoing quest to match the perspective in Edward Hopper’s watercolors and drawings. My focus this time was Hopper’s Windy Day, which shows an area of the river with rocky ledges, probably near Sylvester’s Rocks or Pinch Rock, along Route 14 just outside of South Royalton.

273209_01In the summer these rocks are a jumping-off place for swimmers and a launching pad for tubing — and for stretching out in the sun to warm up after a dip in the always-cold water.  This area has now been conserved, through an innovative program of the White River Partnership and the generosity of a local landowner, Peg Elmer. A crew from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps recently set stone steps into the river bank so that the sprawling ledges are easily accessible to everyone. You can read all about the wonderful community project in our local paper, the Randolph Herald.

Sylvester's Rocks 048Thanks to the new steps, I was able to climb down to the river without worrying about my aging knees or how to keep my balance carrying  camera, book, and backpack. Standing on the ledge in the river, I took the shot looking back toward Route 14 and the steps in the river bank. The electrical wires crossing the scene are an unfortunate intrusion, evidencing Hopper’s good judgment in leaving such lines out of his paintings. His wireless poles give a nod to reality but don’t interfere with the picture.

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We’ve had very little rain this month, and so the water’s low in the White River and the rocks are fully exposed. If this is the place in Hopper’s painting, the water level was much higher when he was here. I shot lots of photos, trying to capture Hopper’s perspective and puzzling over whether this was indeed where he painted Windy Day.  That goal became secondary, however, as I reveled in the gorgeous fall colors. The autumn hues were just beginning to appear when Hopper made his paintings, so his palette is much cooler than mine.

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The next day I explored another area of the river where there are more rock ledges, along the edge of the  Vermont Law School campus and below the Chelsea Street bridge, which leads into downtown South Royalton. This is the area where the First Branch enters the White River. The Hopper watercolor that’s reproduced on the cover of my book shows the First Branch just a bit to the north. Looking at the profile of the mountains to the southeast, toward Sharon, I realized that this may actually have been the place where Hopper stood on a windy day in 1938, painting the White River.  I’ll just have to keep looking — and taking more pictures.

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