Just In: An Early Edward Hopper Etching
Long before the flagrant voyeurism and heady psychological uneasiness now associated with Edward Hopper’s oil paintings, most of which depict modern life in post-Depression era America, there were the eerie etchings. This style would foreshadow Hopper’s full preoccupation with isolation, desperation, and the mundane so prevalent in later works.
Before turning exclusively to painting in 1928, Hopper focused primarily on printmaking. From 1915 to 1923 he churned out a considerable number of etchings, in part due to his career as a commercial artist and illustrator. As it turns out, etching would prove a particularly suitable medium for achieving the execution of Hopper’s preferred themes and compositional idioms. Here there is evidence of a masterly manipulation of perspective and light. Sharp, heavily inked lines and vigorous cross-hatching produce a striking chiaroscuro effect that is found in his later paintings. In these etchings one also perceives a preference for unconventional vantage points and stark, profoundly pared down compositional elements that contribute to the unsettling psychological tensions inherent to later works.
The early etchings provide a unique glimpse into Hopper’s evolution as an artist. Here we find the bone structure that would provide the foundation upon which Hopper would develop his later oeuvre characterized by blunt realism, a deliberate eschewal of sentimentality, and a preference for uneventful, but psychologically charged subjects. Images such as the empty, everyday rituals of city life, or disquieting scenes of vacant or abandoned spaces appear in Hopper’s very early and late works.
In Night Shadows a solitary pedestrian scurries along a shadowy, empty city street under close watch from skyscrapers hovering above. We peer down with the skyscrapers and streetlamps, casting our gaze over the lone figure without knowledge of where they are heading or with what purpose, although, like film noir, the etching’s dark tonalities induce a somber mood that suggests a quiet desperation and vague ominousness at hand. True to his oeuvre, Night Shadows teases as many possible narratives as it conceals, ultimately leaving any interpretation, aside from mood, up to the viewer.
Although Night Shadows is in many respects a prelude to Hopper’s later works in terms of subject matter and composition, it is unique in that it is an etching. For this work a commercial printer gave the etching plate a steel face to extend its printing life against wear and tear and approximately 500-600 images were issued from the plate. LAMA is thrilled to offer this early example from Edward Hopper’s oeuvre in the 25th Anniversary Auction.
Etching on wove paper
Image: 7″ x 8.25″; Sheet: 10.75″ x 14″; Frame: 16″ x 17″
Signed in graphite lower right margin beneath image
October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction