American painter, whose highly individualistic works are landmarks of American realism. His paintings embody in art a particular American 20th-century sensibility that is characterized by isolation, melancholy, and loneliness.
Hopper was born on July 22, 1882, in Nyack, New York, and studied illustration in New York City at a commercial art school from 1899 to 1900. Around 1901 he switched to painting and studied at the New York School of Art until 1906, largely under Robert Henri. He made three trips to Europe between 1906 and 1910 but remained unaffected by current French and Spanish experiments in cubism. He was influenced mainly by the great European realists—Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Goya, Honore Daumier, Edouard Manet—whose work had first been introduced to him by his New York City teachers. His early paintings, such as Le pavillon de flore, were committed to realism and exhibited some of the basic characteristics that he was to retain throughout his career: compositional style based on simple, large geometric forms; flat masses of color; and the use of architectural elements in his scenes for their strong verticals, horizontals, and diagonals.
Although one of Hopper’s paintings was exhibited in the famous Armory Show of 1913 in New York City, his work excited little interest, and he was obliged to work principally as a commercial illustrator for the next decade. In 1925 he painted House by the Railroad, a landmark in American art that marked the advent of his mature style. The emphasis on blunt shapes and angles and the stark play of light and shadow were in keeping with his earlier work, but the mood—which was the real subject of the painting—was new: It conveyed an atmosphere of all-embracing loneliness and almost eerie solitude.
Hopper continued to work in this style for the rest of his life, refining and purifying it but never abandoning its basic principles. Most of his paintings portray scenes in New York or New England, both country and city scenes, all with a spare, homely quality—deserted streets, half-empty theaters, gas stations, railroad tracks, rooming houses. One of his best-known works, Nighthawks, shows an all-night café, its few uncommunicative customers illuminated in the pitiless glare of electric lights.
Although Hopper’s work was outside the mainstream of mid-20th-century abstraction, his simplified schematic style was one of the influences on the later representational revival and on pop art. He died May 15, 1967, in New York City.