Concern with the psychology and environment of travelers led Edward Hopper (1882-1967) to create some of his most compelling pictures, including views of train stations, highways, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. The human need to seek shelter and sustenance while away from the security of one’s home offered dramatic settings where Hopper could convey a wealth of emotions. Hopper’s earlier versions of the hotel as theme include: Hotel Room (1931, El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), Hotel Lobby (1943, Indianapolis Museum of Art, figure 1), Hotel by a Railroad (1952, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., figure 2). Western Motel (1957, Yale University Art Gallery, figure 3), which followed Hotel Window (1955), presents a view out of the window of a Californian landscape and Hopper’s automobile.
Hopper often traveled, driving far and wide, in search of new subject matter. He also took trains to various cities to serve as an exhibition juror for museums. Not the sort to venture very far from his base, whether it was his automobile or his hotel room, Hopper found hotels intriguing environments in which to situate figures he wanted to paint. He often made rough sketches on location, but usually he had his wife, the artist Josephine (Jo) Nivison Hopper, pose back in his New York studio. She, in turn, shopped for an idiosyncratic array of hats and other costume items to enliven the diverse settings and moods he envisioned.
Hotel Window, though inspired by Hopper’s experiences with travel, took impetus from scenes that he found in New York City, where he lived for most of the year. The focus of the composition is a gray-haired woman looking out of the window of an otherwise deserted corner of a hotel lobby. Seated on a firm blue sofa, she twists to observe what goes on outside in the street, which to the viewer appears empty. She wears a burgundy dress, a lighter reddish hat, and a fur-collared coat with a blue lining around her shoulders. Whatever her gaze takes in so intently is not visible to the viewer of the painting. What we see instead is the illuminated base and trunk of a classical column and the dark geometry of windows beyond as observed at night. Hopper liked to paint the view from an interior space through a window to the scene outside, but he set most such pictures in broad daylight. The nocturnal exceptions are Moonlight Interior (1921-23, Regis Collection, Minneapolis) from Hopper’s formative years and Nighthawks (1942, Art Institute of Chicago) and Hotel Window from his maturity. In both of these latter two compositions, Hopper placed a woman in a red dress against a darkened vista of buildings observed across a narrow urban street. The warm bright red color of the two dresses make each female figure appear to project forward into space. Pale, brightly lit walls in each of these two classic paintings effectively set up a dramatic contrast to the darkened street outside.
"Whatever interests woman gazing out must occur off stage at left of canvas, distant enough to cast no light except on white pillar of stoop outside window. Picture definitely not called: “Alone in the city at night.” But why not?" wrote Jo Hopper, in the record books that she carefully kept of each painting as it left the studio (figure 5). She described the setting: ‘Walls, in electric, pale greenish yellow, greenish shadows. Carpet greeny blue, rug & settee same darker. Lampshade orange on brown table." She made no comment on the picture within the picture, a framed glass drawing that reveals only a horizon line, hinting at a landscape, which hangs over the table and above the lamp. Hopper adopted from his favorite painter Degas his habit of placing a framed picture inside his own compositions.
An extant preparatory sketch on paper for Hotel Window (figure 4) makes clear that Hopper once considered including a man seated across the room from the figure of the woman that he finally allowed to monopolize his picture. Absorbed in reading a newspaper, the man contrasts with the alert figure of the woman, peering outside. She is one of the characteristic figures that Hopper depicted waiting for someone or something unknown to the viewer.
Solitary women looking out of windows appear in different contexts in several of Hopper’s most characteristic paintings including Eleven A. M. (1926, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden), Room in Brooklyn (1932, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Morning in a City (1944, Williams College Museum of Art), Cape Cod Morning (1950, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.) and Morning Sun (1952, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio). In both Hotel Window and in Hotel Lobby, Hopper depicted older women with gray hair visible beneath their hats.
Working on Hotel Window in mid-December 1955, Hopper stopped painting to walk around mid-town Manhattan to observe the small hotels located there. By then, he found too much nighttime illumination for his taste, as Jo reported in her diary. (Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, 493) ‘It’s nothing accurate at all, just an improvisation of things I’ve seen. It’s no particular hotel lobby, but many times I’ve walked through the Thirties from Broadway to Fifth Avenue and there are a lot of cheesy hotels in there. That probably suggested it. Lonely? Yes, I guess it’s lonelier than I planned it, really.’ Hopper responded to a question put to him by a reporter who came to research a cover story on him for Time magazine.
By the mid-1950s, Hopper, who feared that he was being superseded by the younger abstract expressionists, had become a founder of the artists’ journal, Reality, serving on its editorial board along with Raphael Soyer and Jack Levine, among others. Hopper need not have worried, for his work had already struck a note with the public and was firmly in tune with the popular imagination. The relationship of his imagery to that of the cinema is one aspect of his work that continues to have particularly broad appeal. Hotel Window, like many Hopper paintings, evokes scenes from earlier films, seeming at once familiar and yet hinting at larger drama beyond the limitations of the picture’s frame.
The design of Hopper’s composition in Hotel Window recalls a key scene from a famous film noir, The Woman in the Window (1944, figure 6). Film Noir is a French term that refers to an American genre or style of movies, usually from the late 1940s and early 1950s. Characterized by low-key, expressionist lighting and desolate urban settings, noir movies often present sinister, gloomy characters. Directed by Fritz Lang, The Woman in the Window stars Edward G. Robinson, as the married psychology professor who falls in love with the young woman whose portrait he first observes in a gallery window. In Hopper’s painting, however, an exterior architectural setting seen in the film becomes our view of the hotel lobby’s interior. The angles and proportions of the architecture as well as the tilting of the floor recall the scene from the film. The street-level window’s reflection of the geometrical windows across the street in the movie now appears as the view outside the window in Hopper’s painting. It may be that Hopper was making a pun by putting his own ‘woman in the window’ on canvas—not a femme fatale, but a woman past the dangerous age.
An avid film-goer, Hopper surely saw this popular film since its star, Robinson had purchased Hopper’s canvas, Sun on Prospect Street, in 1940, becoming one of the first of many of his patrons in Hollywood. Around the time Hopper painted Hotel Window, Robinson was himself a topic of discussion in the Hopper household. On February 22, 1956, less than two months after Hopper finished painting Hotel Window, Jo eagerly went to see Robinson perform on Broadway in Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night, attending the play as the guest of their friend Ella Mielziner, the mother of the play’s scenic and lighting designer, Jo Mielziner. She took with her to the performance an article on Hopper from American Artist magazine, which she left at the theater for Robinson. When the actor subsequently called and asked to visit the Washington Square studio that the couple called home, Hopper refused, claiming that the actor would not like “the run down aspect of things here. (Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, 496-97).
The influence of movies on Hopper extended far beyond the few canvases such as Circle Theater (1936, private collection), The Sheridan Theatre (1937, The Newark Museum), and New York Movie (1939, The Museum of Modern Art) that actually took the cinema as their theme. Hopper and his wife continued to take in many films in the 1940s and 1950s when he was not then making the movies an explicit subject. Hotel Window exemplifies that quality in his work that we associate with film noir, which at the time he painted it was in its classic period.
We would like to thank Dr. Gail Levin for the preceding essay.
Oil on canvas
Buffalo, New York, Albright Art Gallery, Loan Exhibition-Contemporary American, January 1957, no. 16
Naples, Italy, Palazzo Reale, 25 anni di pittura americana 1933-58 (organized by the City Art Museum, St. Louis for the U.S. Information Agency), October 1959, p. 22, illustrated
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Chicago, Illinois, Art Institute of Chicago; Detroit, Detroit Institute of Arts; St. Louis, City Art Museum, Edward Hopper, September 1964-May 1965, no. 64
Palm Beach, Norton Gallery and School of Art, Edward Hopper, 1968
New York, American Bank and Trust Company, Art Exhibition of Twentieth Century American Artists, 1969
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Edward Hopper, 1972
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, European and American Masterpieces, 1975, no. 4
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, American Masterpieces from Two Hundred Years: A Bicentennial Exhibition, December 1976-January 1977
Lugano, Villa Malpensata, Collezione Thyssen-Bornemisza, Arte Moderna, n.d. no. 43, illustrated in color
Perth, Art Gallery of Western Australia; Adelaide, Art Gallery of South Australia; Brisbane, Australia, Queensland Art Gallery; Melbourne, Australia, National Gallery of Victoria; Sydney, Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales, America and Europe: A Century of Modern Masters from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, October 1979-August 1980, no. 87, pp. 20, 165, illustrated
Wellington, New Zealand, National Art Gallery; Auckland, New Zealand, Auckland City Art Gallery; Christchurch, New Zealand, Robert McDougall Art Gallery, America & Europe: A Century of Modern Masters, September 1980-December 1980, no. 87, p. 165, illustrated in color p. 105
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; London, Hayward Gallery; Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum; Dusseldorf, Stadtische Kunsthalle; Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist, September 1980-February 1982, pp. 40, 50, pl. 300, illustrated in color
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, Important American Paintings of the 20th Century, January-February 1983, no. 26b
New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, American and European Paintings of the 19th and 20th Century, July-September 1984
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Edward Hopper and the American Imagination, June-October 1995, color pl. 8
Princeton, New Jersey, In Celebration: Works of Art from the Collections of Princeton Alumni and Friends of the Art Museum, February-June 1997, no. 274
Las Vegas, Nevada, Bellagio Art Gallery, The Private Collection of Steve Martin, April-September 2001
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, Edward Hopper, June-December 2006
40 by 55 in. (101.6 by 139.7 cm)
Parker Tyler, "Hopper/Pollock: The Loneliness of the Crowd and the Loneliness of the Universe," Art News Annual, 1957, pp. 104-105, illustrated
Famous Artists School, Westport, Connecticut, 1968, vol. 3, sec. 16, p. 24, illustrated
Kunstwerk, Stuttgart, February-March 1970, p. 9, illustrated
Lloyd Goodrich, Edward Hopper, New York, 1971, p. 284, illustrated
Jerry William McRoberts, "The Conservative Realists' Image of America in the 1920's: Modernism, Traditionalism and Nationalism," Ph.D. diss., University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana, 1980, p. 83, note 1
Edgar Munhall, "Edward Hopper und die grosse Krise," du, April 1980, pp. 58-59, illustrated
Anne Coffin Hanson, "Edward Hopper, American Meaning and French Craft, Art Journal, Summer 1981, p. 144, fig. 3
Gail Levin, "Edward Hopper's Nighthawks," Art Magazine, May 1981, p. 160
Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, vol. I, p. 82, vol. III, no. 0-352, p. 352, illustrated in color p. 353
This painting has been requested for the upcoming traveling exhibition Edward Hopper at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. and The Art Institute of Chicago, May 2007-May 2008.
Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery, New York
Olga H. Knoepke, Brooklyn, New York, 1957
Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Fleischman, Detroit, Michigan
Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Louis D. Cohen, Kings Point, New York, 1965
Andrew Crispo Gallery, New York, 1975
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano, Switzerland, 1976
The Andrew Crispo Collection, New York (sale: Sotheby’s, New York, December 3, 1987, lot 315, illustrated in color)
The FORBES Magazine Collection, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Aquired by the present owner from the above