This week I spent a couple of delightful days in Washington, D.C., doing research in the Archives of American Art and paying a visit to one of Edward Hopper’s Vermont watercolors, White River at Sharon (1937). This work is now on display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, until August 17, in the exhibition Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection.
White River at Sharon is reproduced in my book, but this was the first time I’d seen the original painting, as the Smithsonian would not loan it for last summer’s Edward Hopper in Vermont exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art. Like most art museums, SAAM has a policy that watercolors can only be displayed — and exposed to light — intermittently and for limited periods of time. When Middlebury asked to borrow White River at Sharon, it had just been returned to lightless storage, after being “out” for many months in the major Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, France. I understand the reason for the rule, of course, but I was nevertheless perturbed that the Smithsonian would send this painting to France but not to Vermont — where it still has never been exhibited.
Thus I was very glad to finally be able to see the original, pulled out of storage for the Smithsonian’s own exhibition this summer. I’m happy to report that the colors are still strong and true (and I have to admit that yes, the pristine appearance of this 77-year-old watercolor does indeed justify the restrictive display policy!). The water is as blue as it is in prints from the 1960s. I was relieved to see this, as more recent reproductions, including that on the SAAM web site, have a oddly purplish tinge, unlike any color seen in nature, at least in Vermont.
Hopper’s rendering of the water is a marvel; you can almost feel the breeze that’s ruffling the surface.
Hopper also captured the distinctive cloud formations and cool light associated with the weather of early fall, preceding a storm. Interestingly, here Hopper used white paint to give the clouds some additional texture, whereas in others of the Vermont watercolors the clouds are simply unpainted white paper, shaped by the blue of the surrounding sky.
There’s much in this small painting that you can’t see in the reproductions, or even in my closeup photos here, so it’s worth a trip to the SAAM to see it, especially for watercolorists. At the same time you can see a wonderful Hopper oil, Cape Cod Morning, exhibited on the wall just opposite White River at Sharon. Seen together, these two works show something of the incredible range of Hopper’s talents and versatility.