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Artist: Edward Hopper, American, 1882 - 1967
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Sight dimensions: 29 1/16 x 40 1/4 in. (73.819 x 102.235 cm) Framed dimensions: 38 3/4 x 50 1/4 in. (98.425 x 127.635 cm)
Credit Line: Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Purnell
Object Number: 1958.9
Two Lights lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, appears atop a steep hill in this landscape painting devoid of people. The scene seems abandoned and frozen in time, a characteristic of Edward Hopper’s work. Hopper visited Cape Elizabeth in 1927, yet in Lighthouse Hill he eliminates details that he might have observed firsthand, such as a rocky shoreline. Instead, he focuses on the effects of sunlight on the two structures. Small towns along the ocean or in the country offered respite from the fast pace of the 1920s city. Some artists during the decade chose to paint rural landscapes as a way to represent a more honest and simple way of life.
Born in Nyack, New York, in 1882, Hopper began exhibiting his oil paintings and etchings at various New York group shows during the 1910s. His work was featured at the 1913 Armory Show—an influential modern art exhibition that pushed the boundaries of art. The 1920s marked Hopper’s first solo show at the Whitney Studio Club, and a second a few years later at the Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery, where Hopper sold every exhibited painting. Consequently, the Rehn Gallery represented Hopper for his entire career.
Clearly outlined forms, defined lights and darks, and cropped compositions characterize much of Hopper’s work. He was also interested in order, proportion, and the way sunlight affected the appearance of architecture. While many of his contemporaries focused their attention on the hustle and bustle of modern, urban life, Hopper preferred to explore the quiet pensiveness in both urban scenes and rural landscapes. His city streets, for example, are often devoid of pedestrians. Hopper stated that his “aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature.” Many of his paintings have been interpreted as representations of loneliness, solitude, or alienation, but Hopper responded to these readings with “the loneliness thing is overdone.” He felt that art should express the artist’s personal vision of his or her world.
Hopper is a well-known 20th-century American realist, and his work is hailed as uniquely American. He became less popular with art critics during the 1940s and 1950s, as the school of abstract expressionism began to dominate the art world scene.
Hopper was particularly interested in lighthouses, and many are included in his drawings, prints, and paintings. Lighthouse Hill presents the Cape Elizabeth Light, also known as Two Lights lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. (As the name suggests, Cape Elizabeth has two lighthouses. The east lighthouse is pictured in Lighthouse Hill.) Hopper visited Two Lights during the summer of 1927. Captain Upton, who operated Two Lights, lived in the adjacent cottage. His home appears in several works by Hopper.
The lighthouse, which still stands today, is preserved as a historic treasure by the American Lighthouse Foundation, and remains actively operated by the National Coast Guard. While the lighthouse looks similar to Hopper’s renderings, remodels on the keeper’s cottage have transformed it from the images Hopper immortalized in his paintings.
Two Lights Lighthouse in 2012 from Wikipedia Commons.
The notion of a purely American art style developed in the late 19th century. Robert Henri—one of Hopper’s teachers—championed the idea, dismissing the European impressionistic styles that dominated American art at the turn of the century.
In the years following World War I, more American artists isolated themselves from Europe in search of an American art style. While European artists—such as Cézanne, Picasso, and Duchamp—were working in avant garde and abstract styles, many American artists steered toward realism. They painted American scenes realistically, valuing austerity and simplicity over abstraction. Charles Sheeler, who had worked in expressionistic and cubist styles, became an American realist during the twenties. John Stuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton are other American artists who embraced realism. Although Hopper studied art in Paris, he largely resisted art world trends, and was lauded as a model of “authentic” American art.
The automobile significantly altered the experience of the American landscape. With ninety-six thousand miles of national highway by 1927, Americans could visit more parts of the country than ever before. Americans who could afford it traveled to rural towns to escape the fast pace of the city. Artists such as Edward Hopper also spent time in rural areas, exploring American landscapes. The rural experience was idealized as natural settings embodied a more honest way of life. Scenes of the country seemingly expressed a more authentic experience that contrasted with the rapidly changing cityscape and the anxiety associated with it.
Hopper’s isolated buildings devoid of human life were an inspiration to famed film director Alfred Hitchcock. In Lighthouse Hill, deep shadows creep up the steep incline toward the two buildings. The harsh afternoon sun starkly illuminates one side of the buildings while casting the other side into darkness. Viewers of the painting are passive observers to the scene. The effects of inaccessible scenes and the cinematic qualities of Hopper’s works attracted Hitchcock, who sought to induce a sense of unease in his films. Hopper’s House by the Railroad likely influenced the iconic house in the Hitchcock film Psycho.
1. How would you describe the mood at Lighthouse Hill? Is this a place you would like to visit? Why or why not?
2. Imagine you are standing on the hill in the painting. Describe your sensory experiences: What do you see? How does it smell? Can you taste the salt of the ocean? How does the temperature feel? What kinds of sounds surround you?
3. What is the purpose of a lighthouse? What times of day would a lighthouse be useful?
4. Hopper often chose to leave out elements of a scene in his paintings. What might be missing from Lighthouse Hill? How does this impact the mood or scene?
5. How do light and shadow affect the color of the grassy hill? What different shades of green do you notice in the grass?
1. Hopper was interested in light and shadows and their effect on architectural structures. Explore the effects of sunlight on an exterior wall of your school or house. At the same time every hour, take a photograph or sketch the same wall. Describe the physical changes of the sunlight and shadows on the wall and the different moods created throughout the day. Create a small book or presentation of the changing effects.
2. Some places have as much personality as people. Write a story about Lighthouse Hill. Try to capture the mood of Hopper's painting in your story.
3. Hopper’s art inspired filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock. In what kind of a movie might you find a scene like the one in Lighthouse Hill? Write the script of a short film that takes place on Lighthouse Hill.
4. Hopper traveled to Cape Elizabeth, Maine, during the summer of 1927, the year he painted Lighthouse Hill. Where have you traveled during the summer? Paint or draw a scene from a memorable summer vacation or trip.
5. Two Lights is still an active lighthouse. Find it on a map and research its history. Write an essay on the history of the lighthouse and why it is an important landmark.
Carbone, Teresa. Youth and Beauty: Art of the American Twenties. New York: Skira Rizzoli; Brooklyn: Brooklyn Museum, 2011.
Little, Carl. Edward Hopper’s New England. Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate, 1993.
Levin, Gail. Hopper’s Places. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
Denenberg, Thomas Andrew, Amy Kurtz Lansing, and Susan Danly. Call of the Coast: Art Colonies of New England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
Pitman, Bonnie, ed. Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.
Books for Students
Goldman Rubin, Susan. Edward Hopper: Painter of Light and Shadow. New York: Abrams, Harry N., Inc., 2007.
Swift, Hildegarde H. The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge: Restored Edition. New York: Harcourt Children’s Books, 2002.
This website offers resources and podcasts about Edward Hopper.
This resource includes thematically organized information related to Edward Hopper’s life and art.
This essay explores Edward Hopper’s life and art.
This resource provides lesson plans and resources for teaching about America during the 1920s.
This website explores a variety of aspects of the 1920s through text, photos, and video.
Create a montage of popular photos from the Jazz Age.