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Full view: WMAA.31_426.tif

Hopper, Edward
(American, 1882-1967)

Early Sunday Morning, 1930
Whole - 35 3/16 x 60 1/4 in. (89.4 x 153 cm)
Frame - 43 x 68 1/2 in. (109.2 x 174 cm)
Oil on canvas


Early Sunday Morning was acquired by the Whitney Museum within a few months of its completion, the first Edward Hopper painting to enter the Permanent Collection. It is still regarded as one of Hopper's most evocative works, a paradigm of the solemn isolation with which he imbued his city views and of the way in which he distilled, rather than recorded, his subjects. In Early Sunday Morning he copied an actual row of buildings on Seventh Avenue in New York (the work was originally titled Seventh Avenue Shops). But Hopper strove to generalize the site, avoiding the kind of topical detail embraced by contemporaries like Reginald Marsh. The lettering in the shop signs, for instance, is apparent, but unreadable.

Although people are nowhere to be seen, evidence of the human presence is everywhere. In the sequence of second-story windows, identical in size, each aperture has been treated differently, as if reflecting the individuality of its occupant. Hopper initially painted a figure in one of these windows, but later painted it out. To create a dramatic play of light and shadow, Hopper took larger liberties with the original setting. The long shadow on the top of the building and the dark bands across the sidewalk suggest an impossible position for the sun on this north-south avenue. The variety of lighting on the flat, frontal row of buildings is more theatrical than real. In fact, these Seventh Avenue facades recall a theater set, designed by Jo Mielziner, for Elmer Rice's Street Scene, a play Hopper and his wife had attended the previous year. Hopper's willingness to alter the photographic truths of a site reveals a concern with form no less than with content. Indeed, Early Sunday Morning can easily be viewed as a succession of verticals and horizontals and a frieze of contrasted shadow and light. Many of the upper windows have the appearance of miniature Mark Rothko paintings. Given the fundamentally representational character of Hopper's art, it is ironic that this work is equally admired for its stark abstraction, painterly surfaces, and studiously constructed compositions. Hopper's power as the quintessential twentieth-century American realist is sustained by his mastery of formal pictorial construction.

Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10021
No. 31.426
Purchase, with funds from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney

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Related documents:
Sims, Patterson. Whitney Museum of American Art: Selected Works from the Permanent Collection. New York, New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1985, p.77.

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