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.
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!