Edward Hopper Essay - Critical Essays

Gail Levin

Edward Hopper

Gail Levin’s biography of Edward Hopper is the culmination of twenty years of scholarship on this great American artist. Her previous books have dealt with various aspects of his work, including a complete catalogue. For this biography, she appears to have interviewed every important surviving friend or associate of Hopper. She has had complete access to his wife’s important diaries and has investigated thoroughly the literary, philosophical, and artistic influences on his work. The result is a formidable labor of learning that is not likely to be superseded.

It is a strength of Levin’s biography that she never loses her intense sympathy for Hopper’s work even as she reveals him to have been, on many occasions, a cruel man. He taunted his wife, Jo, with her supposed lack of talent. He physically struck her. Jo fought back—both with her fists and with words. Yet she also never doubted her husband’s greatness even when he beat her. She could not imagine life without him, even though life with him often seemed intolerable.

For those unfamiliar with Hopper’s most important paintings, reading this biography may be a bit of a trial. It would help immensely to have a good collection of his best work at hand, otherwise some of the details that Levin describes may not be absorbed. Because it would have been very expensive to reproduce even a small portion of Hopper’s work in color for this biography, most of the illustrative material consists of black-and-white reproductions of drawings. The drawings work well in the biography, especially because they are not grouped into sections but occur as Levin is describing them in her narrative.

For all of Hopper’s periods of boredom and moroseness, he never stopped creating. Only failing health in his last year stopped him from attempting another canvas. Like her subject, Gail Levin has produced stirring, thoughtful, and enduring work.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCII, September 15, 1995, p. 127.

Boston Globe. October 8, 1995, p. B37.

Library Journal. CXX, September 1, 1995, p. 171.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. November 5, 1995, p. 1.

The Nation. CCLXI, October 2, 1995, p. 355.

The New Republic. CCXIII, December 4, 1995, p. 29.

The New York Times Book Review. C, October 8, 1995, p. 15.

Newsweek. CXXVI, August 7, 1995, p. 58.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLII, August 7, 1995, p. 45.

The Wall Street Journal. October 4, 1995, p. A12.

The Washington Post Book Week. October 15, 1995, p. 1.