Edward Hopper’s life of 43 years with his wife Josephine Nivison was strife-filled, as his diary-like drawings report. With no extraneous detail to detract from the intensity of feeling, the drawings “Edward Hopper’s Caricatures: At Home with Ed and Jo,” now on view at Edward Hopper House Art Center, conjure up filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage.” What you get is a stark reality of the couple’s toxic tie.
When Hopper sketched out his hard feelings about his wife, he purposely left them out for her to see. Reasons for their unhappiness take in her anger over his success and her lack of it as an artist and his anger over her bad housekeeping. The fact that he didn’t like his wife’s art didn’t help.
In “Chez Hopper—The Eternal Argument,” Hopper drew the argument in the form of screeching chickens with frightful beaks.
In “The House that Jo Built.” he describes their home upside-down with the doors and windows gone awry, as if their fights blew the doors and windows open.
Clearly, Hopper’s sense of alienation that runs through his drawings informed his paintings. In his best known “Nighthawks,” you can see the impassive look of bored, lonely figures in a diner and their isolation and alienation not only from themselves, but also from the world around them and easily conclude that the painting is a scene from his marriage.
You might say that Hopper conveyed his sadness again in the solitary figure staring into a cup of coffee in his painting “Night at the Automat.”
And, as if to convey more strongly his sense of alienation, in his sketch “Night on the El Train,” he shows two figures not only disconnected, but also far apart from one another and in an otherwise empty train.
You can take his paintings as the true story of anyone in our rootless century. But given Hopper’s sad private life, the paintings stand like metaphors for scene of his marriage.
At least he used metaphors.
Picasso was also given to air his dirty laundry in public by maligning his string of mistresses in paint. And to he made sure you got the picture he painted them faces angled so sharply, they look like they could cause physical harm to the touch.
Hopper’s paintings, then, get his despair across in a more artful way, don’t you think?