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.