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Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography

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Edward Hopper's canvasses are filled with stripped-down spaces and unrelenting light, evocative landscapes, and the lonely aspects of men and women seemingly isolated in their surroundings. What kind of man had this haunting vision, and what kind of life engendered this art? No one is better qualified to answer these questions than art historian Gail Levin, author and cura Edward Hopper's canvasses are filled with stripped-down spaces and unrelenting light, evocative landscapes, and the lonely aspects of men and women seemingly isolated in their surroundings. What kind of man had this haunting vision, and what kind of life engendered this art? No one is better qualified to answer these questions than art historian Gail Levin, author and curator of the major studies and exhibitions of Hopper's work. In this intimate biography she reveals the true nature and personality of the man himself—and of the woman who shared his life, the artist Josephine Nivison.


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Edward Hopper's canvasses are filled with stripped-down spaces and unrelenting light, evocative landscapes, and the lonely aspects of men and women seemingly isolated in their surroundings. What kind of man had this haunting vision, and what kind of life engendered this art? No one is better qualified to answer these questions than art historian Gail Levin, author and cura Edward Hopper's canvasses are filled with stripped-down spaces and unrelenting light, evocative landscapes, and the lonely aspects of men and women seemingly isolated in their surroundings. What kind of man had this haunting vision, and what kind of life engendered this art? No one is better qualified to answer these questions than art historian Gail Levin, author and curator of the major studies and exhibitions of Hopper's work. In this intimate biography she reveals the true nature and personality of the man himself—and of the woman who shared his life, the artist Josephine Nivison.

30 review for Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Charles Bechtel

    No need to criticize what must stand as a seminal biography on this prominent painter. It is, and that's all there is. One cannot like E Hopper nearly as much as one like Hopper the Artist: the man is not the art, for sure. Levin, who has been skewered enough for the "feminist slant" of the text, deserves her rank as a foremost Hopper scholar; she just doesn't rate very high as a sensitive writer. The prose in too many places is simply flavorless, and certainly not as evocatively minimal as the w No need to criticize what must stand as a seminal biography on this prominent painter. It is, and that's all there is. One cannot like E Hopper nearly as much as one like Hopper the Artist: the man is not the art, for sure. Levin, who has been skewered enough for the "feminist slant" of the text, deserves her rank as a foremost Hopper scholar; she just doesn't rate very high as a sensitive writer. The prose in too many places is simply flavorless, and certainly not as evocatively minimal as the works of her subject. In one sentence I counted a string of seven prepositional phrases. Savage. My feelings about this book is that she had misnamed it. In too many places, and for too many opportunities, she becomes not just an advocate for Jo Hopper, the wife, but more her biographer and apologist than for E. I would have retitled this massive tome, "The Biography of Jo Hopper: put upon wife of a great artist." By the repetitive dependence on the found diaries of this frustrated and vacillating woman, Levin created a rather flat portrait of her subject. There will be better biographies, and with any luck they will not be the lengthy catalogs of sameness that this effort manages to master. One note about a technique she employed that I found thoroughly annoying, and one which could have been overcome with simple subheads. When she enters into a discussion about a particular painting, she describes it, its genesis and development, but withholding the name of it until she is nearly done with the discussion. The full lack of images may be dismissed by copyright requirements, but a simple notation of what work she speaks of before she starts would have been a great help. And she does it for virtually, if not all, of his efforts. Very annoying. It is huge, it is necessary, but it could have been twice as informative if it had been half as long. Ergo, three stars for the book, an average of five stars for thoroughness added to 1 star for style, divided in half.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Frank McAdam

    No one can ever accuse Edward Hopper of having been an engaging character. In photograph after photograph, he looks more like some small town store manager than an internationally known artist. Bald and invariably wearing the type of conservatively cut suit favored by bankers, he faces the camera with the unsmiling face of an accountant. And this was no act. There was no hidden warmth beneath his dour exterior. The actress Helen Hayes once said of him: "I had never met a more misanthropic, grump No one can ever accuse Edward Hopper of having been an engaging character. In photograph after photograph, he looks more like some small town store manager than an internationally known artist. Bald and invariably wearing the type of conservatively cut suit favored by bankers, he faces the camera with the unsmiling face of an accountant. And this was no act. There was no hidden warmth beneath his dour exterior. The actress Helen Hayes once said of him: "I had never met a more misanthropic, grumpy, grouchy individual in my life..." All this makes reading a long biography of the man difficult for the average art lover. Though he made the obligatory trip to Paris in his youth and spent most of his adult life in the same Washington Square apartment in Greenwich Village, there are no wild escapades to report, no mad flings with models. Phlegmatic to a fault, he consorted with artists he felt could be helpful to his career, such as Guy Pène du Bois, but formed no deep friendships with them. In politics, he was so conservative that he might be labeled a reactionary. He and his wife once drove 600 miles to register to vote so that they could cast their ballots against Franklin D. Roosevelt. It is only as one proceeds through this exhaustive biography that one comes to realize that it was precisely Hopper's conservatism that made his paintings so effective. In an extremely insightful comment, the author writes: "... it is his [Hopper's] profound alienation from contemporary life that makes his art so characteristic of modernity itself." And this is it in a nutshell. Hopper, born in 1882 in Nyack, NY, never really left behind his small town nineteenth century roots. He never really felt at home in twentieth century America, the less so as traditional values gave way in the face of urbanization and technological advances to a rootlessness that even today underlies the American psyche. Tellingly, in his pictures of New York City, Hopper never painted the full length of the skyscrapers that towered over him but only showed them, if at all, as truncated forms in the background. Hopper's paintings paradoxically portray everyday scenes in the world about him and yet are filled with a sense of emptiness. A rundown Victorian mansion in House by the Railroad (1925) and a row of Seventh Avenue storefronts in Early Sunday Morning (1930) are both melancholy remnants of an earlier age that has now vanished. There are no people in either of these pictures (Hopper painted out a figure he had originally placed in one of the storefront windows in Early Sunday Morning); but when Hopper does paint figures they do not look at one another, nor at the viewer either, and thus their presence only intensifies the pervading sense of loneliness and alienation. This can be seen clearly in the late 1963 painting People in the Sun. None of the figures is wearing the casual attire one would expect of sunbathers but each is instead fully suited up in business clothes. The lone figure in the second row looks down at his book while the four recumbent figures in the front row stare blindly ahead, one through dark glasses, into a featureless landscape. In Girlie Show (1941), an expressionless dancer is oblivious of the audience as she moves naked about the stage. In watching her, the viewer, like the audience itself, becomes a voyeur taking a peek at the forbidden. Gail Levin's has given us a well written book that is as thoroughly researched as one would expect of the author of Hopper's catalogue raisomné. It is subtitled "An Intimate Biography," and so it is in more ways than one. The drama is provided by excerpts from the diaries kept by Hopper's wife Jo - a frustrated artist who, like her husband, once studied under Robert Henri but was after her marriage completely ignored by the same critics and galleries who rushed to lionize her husband. Hopper himself, prey to insecurity, did everything he could to crush his wife's career and to discourage her from painting. Jo's attitude toward her husband is therefore, not surprisingly, at best ambivalent as she gives as good as she gets in the couple's frequent physical altercations. Levin has a great deal of sympathy for Jo, whose own artwork was discarded by the Whitney when it acquired Hopper's collection, and to a large extent the reader sees the artist from this woman's conflicted viewpoint. Jo was aware of the extent of her husband's achievement and lauded him for it, but at the same time she never lost sight of Hopper's extensive personal failings. This, anyway, is the narrative Levin offers the reader. As one progresses through the book, however, Jo comes across more and more as a slightly dotty "cat lady," and one begins to question the prominence accorded her in this biography of her husband and the emphasis placed on the importance of her work whose quality appears after all rather dubious. The book would have benefited greatly from an insert containing color plates of Hopper's major works. As it is, there are photographs and preparatory drawings scattered throughout the text, but these are all in black & white. A surprisingly large number of the paintings that are reproduced in monochrome are by Jo. Unfortunately, these do nothing to support her credibility as a serious artist. Looking at them, the reader feels that Levin has perhaps allowed her sympathy for the artist's wife to skew her judgment.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joel Kimmel

    I did not enjoy reading this book, of which a majority is told using information or entries sourced from diaries and files of Josephine Hopper, Edward's wife. Her writing is boring, bullet point-style, and rarely interesting. In fact, both of their lives are rather boring, and this book could have been half the size without all of the entries from Josephine and the cataloging of Edward's work sourced from Josephine's files. Interested in Nighthawks, Hopper's most famous painting? There's not muc I did not enjoy reading this book, of which a majority is told using information or entries sourced from diaries and files of Josephine Hopper, Edward's wife. Her writing is boring, bullet point-style, and rarely interesting. In fact, both of their lives are rather boring, and this book could have been half the size without all of the entries from Josephine and the cataloging of Edward's work sourced from Josephine's files. Interested in Nighthawks, Hopper's most famous painting? There's not much of a story there, except for how he rarely paints, struggles when he does, stays home, grumpy and misogynistic, his feet by the warmth of his pot-bellied stove, while Josephine does all the household work (except the hauling of fuel up 74 steps). I didn't just dislike this book because Edward Hopper was a horrible person who did not support his wife's art career, hit her and constantly berated her for her driving abilities. This book was a slog, essentially entering names of paintings from Hopper's career, describing them, the difficulties in painting them, and then having Josephine enter it in her book. Sprinkle in some dry letters to art friends, pointless trips to Mexico, and more bellyaching from Edward. Between those entries, you are treated with their annual trip to Cape Cod where they bicker with each other while Edward reads poetry and doesn't paint anything. Obsessed with his early trips to France, Hopper spends the first 20 years of his career trying to sell the paintings he created there, while dabbling in illustration, which he despised, probably because he wasn't good at it, and his art buddies made him feel bad about it. As an illustrator, it sure is fun to read a book about an artist who constantly disparages illustration. One of my favourite artists, Andrew Wyeth, who some insist on calling a "mere illustrator", makes about three appearances in this book at gallery openings. I can't say I didn't learn anything, because I did. If you love Edward Hopper, maybe you shouldn't read anything about him, because I'm not sure he has any admirable traits. My opinions of the art of artists are often formed by knowing more about the artists themselves, their struggles, their lives and their character. In this case, the less you know about him, the more you'll like the work of Edward Hopper.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    If you enjoy enjoying the art of Edward Hopper, I do not recommend that you read this book. Using Jo Hopper’s near daily diary entries, Levin lays out in often meticulously dull detail the daily frustrations of her unhappy marriage to this quiet, cold, insensitive man. The first one hundred pages examine Hopper’s early life and career prior to courting Jo at the end of the 1920s, when he was already in his 40s. After the marriage each year of their life together is laid out chapter by chapter in If you enjoy enjoying the art of Edward Hopper, I do not recommend that you read this book. Using Jo Hopper’s near daily diary entries, Levin lays out in often meticulously dull detail the daily frustrations of her unhappy marriage to this quiet, cold, insensitive man. The first one hundred pages examine Hopper’s early life and career prior to courting Jo at the end of the 1920s, when he was already in his 40s. After the marriage each year of their life together is laid out chapter by chapter in near diary fashion—the friends who visited, the paintings started, the awards given, and, as time passes, the fights over Jo’s driving, the hunger strikes, the beatings, the lack of recognition of Jo’s work, the cold dismissals by Edward, the grueling road trips out west, the isolated, cold water house, the deaths of their friends and the moving on of art fashion. It is painfully sad and lonely, and it made me sad to read it. On a lighter note, I think Edward Hopper’s paintings would still work today, except that all of the characters would be staring into i-phones.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    I couldn't finish this exhaustive joint biography of Edward and Jo Hopper. They were minimally interesting as people, having lived in the same place for 40 years, and while Hopper was a wonderful artist, critics, including Levin make way too much of his 'symbolism' and psychological content. I guess they don't want to admit that he basically painted what he saw with special emphasis on light, shadow, and angles. On top of this, Levin is the driest writer ever to touch a keyboard. I couldn't finish this exhaustive joint biography of Edward and Jo Hopper. They were minimally interesting as people, having lived in the same place for 40 years, and while Hopper was a wonderful artist, critics, including Levin make way too much of his 'symbolism' and psychological content. I guess they don't want to admit that he basically painted what he saw with special emphasis on light, shadow, and angles. On top of this, Levin is the driest writer ever to touch a keyboard.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I love Hopper's paintings - the captured details, the incite. However, I could not get through this book. The writing was so dry and at about 800 pages, the book is a bit intimidating. Or maybe I just didn't want to accept that he seemed not to be a pleasant person who had clear issues with women. I love Hopper's paintings - the captured details, the incite. However, I could not get through this book. The writing was so dry and at about 800 pages, the book is a bit intimidating. Or maybe I just didn't want to accept that he seemed not to be a pleasant person who had clear issues with women.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dan Lalande

    The cover illustration, Hopper's 1956 work "Gas," perfectly previews the within: a man fixated with a spare landscape, a woman, behind him, desperate to be included. As Levin, a foremost authority on Hopper, reveals, it is impossible to access the man without going through Jo Ivisson, Hopper's long-suffering wife (a notable artist in her own right). This biography, as arid as some considered Hopper's oeuvre, is livened only by generous excerpts from Ivisson's diaries. From those, we get to know, The cover illustration, Hopper's 1956 work "Gas," perfectly previews the within: a man fixated with a spare landscape, a woman, behind him, desperate to be included. As Levin, a foremost authority on Hopper, reveals, it is impossible to access the man without going through Jo Ivisson, Hopper's long-suffering wife (a notable artist in her own right). This biography, as arid as some considered Hopper's oeuvre, is livened only by generous excerpts from Ivisson's diaries. From those, we get to know, for better or worse, the talented, taciturn egotist who subjected his wife to the worst types of contempt. As was said of many a painting by America's greatest realist, this is not a pretty picture.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Rosso

    Incredibly detailed and intimate biography of painter Edward Hopper and his wife Josephine Verstille Nivison Hopper, a woman of incredible determination, talent and a strong personality who fought against her prejudiced husband and the prejudiced society as they both tried to suppress her creative spirit. The woman who's posed for every single painting, kept his records and dealt with buyers, public, journalists, museums and creatively collaborated to forge Hopper's career in their forty three y Incredibly detailed and intimate biography of painter Edward Hopper and his wife Josephine Verstille Nivison Hopper, a woman of incredible determination, talent and a strong personality who fought against her prejudiced husband and the prejudiced society as they both tried to suppress her creative spirit. The woman who's posed for every single painting, kept his records and dealt with buyers, public, journalists, museums and creatively collaborated to forge Hopper's career in their forty three years together gets the recognition that she deserves in this mammoth work by Hopper expert, art critic and PHD Gail Levin.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Leyendecker1874

    I barely made it thru the first quarter of this book, in fact, this was my second attempt. The first attempt, years ago, I couldn’t do it and put it down and had no desire to pick it up again. If you enjoy reading dry, menial details perhaps you may fair differently. The book does get a little better when Jo enters the picture and the author has her journal to reference. While, I feel this book offered a wholistic view of Hopper’s life, I also feel like it could’ve been better edited.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Norm Powell

    A very good book but a bit verbose and frequently repetitive but otherwise a good read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    A good documentary of Hopper's life, work, and marriage. However, it doesn't delve as far into Hopper's psyche (though it does discuss his misogyny and his dysfunctional relationship with his wife in detail) or the broader artistic and cultural context of his work as a truly excellent biography would have. The detail on Hopper's life and work is remarkable, though, and the attention paid to his wife is important. A good documentary of Hopper's life, work, and marriage. However, it doesn't delve as far into Hopper's psyche (though it does discuss his misogyny and his dysfunctional relationship with his wife in detail) or the broader artistic and cultural context of his work as a truly excellent biography would have. The detail on Hopper's life and work is remarkable, though, and the attention paid to his wife is important.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amy Talluto

    Excellent biography of Hopper and an excellent biographer in Gail Levin. Hopper doesn't come out looking like such a nice guy afterwards-so your opinion of him may lower after reading this. Much of his wife Jo's letters, commentary and complaints dominates the narrative and the biographer takes her side much of the time, and rightly so. Hopper was quite the egoist. Highly recommend. Very exciting read. Excellent biography of Hopper and an excellent biographer in Gail Levin. Hopper doesn't come out looking like such a nice guy afterwards-so your opinion of him may lower after reading this. Much of his wife Jo's letters, commentary and complaints dominates the narrative and the biographer takes her side much of the time, and rightly so. Hopper was quite the egoist. Highly recommend. Very exciting read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Not finished yet. Long book packed w/many important facts; takes time. Will complete review when finished reading. Many direct statements from artist

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rosa Ramôa

    " muitas pessoas dizem que pintura é divertido. Eu não acho isso divertido. É difícil trabalhar para mim". " muitas pessoas dizem que pintura é divertido. Eu não acho isso divertido. É difícil trabalhar para mim".

  15. 4 out of 5

    John Muir

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sherri

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mbkjconley

  18. 4 out of 5

    Harry

  19. 4 out of 5

    Christian Casadei

  20. 5 out of 5

    Betts

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Sukumaran

  22. 4 out of 5

    Art Critics

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marc Van den Berg

  24. 5 out of 5

    R.Friend

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brenda Wilson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Madikay

  28. 5 out of 5

    Robert Vaughan

  29. 5 out of 5

    Larry Brunt

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

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