Hopper & Freud
16th July, 2013
One way of looking at the American artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is that he mirrored the psychological currents of the 20th century. Before Sigmund Freud wrote 'Mourning & Melancholia' (1917), Hopper's melancholic style was already established. His motifs were darkness and solitude in the city - and the black and white medium of etching, to which he turned his attention from 1915 onwards, lent itself particularly to such a mood. 'Night in the Park' (1921) is a lovely example.
Freud had visited America in 1912, and news and images of the Great War affected American thinking during that decade. Hopper himself, still single and unsuccessful, turned his attention from oil canvases to etching, which made more sense commercially.
In mid-life, like Freud, his creativity gained clearer expression, and in 1923 he sold his first canvas 'Mansard Roof', which features a house with blank windows, Hopper's expression of the discomfort of emptiness.
Later, 'Automat' (1928), a most beautifully evocative and timeless work, shows a young woman alone in a coffee-shop. It's typical of Hopper that the painting fits the mood of the times, the girl's studious interiority in contrast to 'outside' - the flourescent light and large window behind her.
Hopper's paintings lure the spectator in, and then ask endless, unanswerable questions. However, this task is softened by the melancholic beauty of the scene. Her timelessness is exquisite. Can't we imagine her sitting alone in a cafe in Hoxton, with exactly the same concerns three-quarters of a century later? Is she lonely, tired or lost? Is she waiting, and if so, for whom?
Hopper outlived Freud, Jung and Klein, but they all followed the same path of exploration of modern life, the paradox of a self in a society, and the focus on the individual.
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