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Culture

Paris retrospective shows Hopper's French influences

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Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2012-10-15

An exhibit dedicated to painter Edward Hopper will be open in Paris from October 10 to January 28. Curator Didier Ottinger says the retrospective tries to rescue the little-explored French sensibility of one of the great American masters.

It is one of the most important museum exhibitions in France this year. From October 10 to January 28, 2013, the Grand Palais in Paris brings together a vast collection of works by American painter Edward Hopper.

The retrospective is eagerly awaited by the French and other Europeans, who have few opportunities to see original Hoppers close to home. Neither France, Britain nor Germany count a single major work by Hopper.

A single study for the 1960 painting “People in the Sun” is the only work in France, and it is part of a personal collection. Thus, for many visitors, it will be a first opportunity to see Hopper up close.

While the exhibit features some of his most well-known oil paintings, organisers say visitors should expect a new French spin on an American classic. FRANCE 24 caught up with the show’s curator Didier Ottinger to find out more.


Hopper travelled to France on three separate occasions in 1906, 1909 and 1910. How did those trips influence his work?

“Paris completely changed his style. Here he adopted what he called Impressionism or Post-Impressionism. In fact, it was really Fauvism. But it was a total transformation for a man who had grown up in a very religious and puritan family. In Paris, he discovered a real joie de vie about which he wrote home to his mother. Here, he discovered love, among other things, and enjoyed strolling though Paris, which he admired for its harmony and beauty."

“As soon as he arrived in Paris in 1906, he went to see the Salon d’Automne, which at the time was the place to see the latest in French painting. It was at this show that Matisse and the entire Fauve generation had caused an uproar the previous year -- and that is what Hopper discovered upon his arrival. He was immediately inspired to explore the style of Albert Marquet, which often included very low-angle or high-angle framing. Never, or almost never, are we presented with the city as a pedestrian, but rather as a spectator from a high vantage point.”

What happens upon his return to America?

"He returns to America with his  baggage of French painting, which is the most modern painting at that time. But he arrives when the art scene in America has radically changed. He returns with groundbreaking paintings, but it is not at all the one Americans are waiting for. It’s not Paris that they want to see, it’s New York (...) but at its most common, chaotic or non-idealized state. He finally adopts this new painting style that America expects from him. To do so, he renounces the pallet that he developed during his Paris years and returns to earth tones, the greys and browns that were part of the American trend (...)."

"Nevertheless, he tries to keep some of his Parisian experience. The painting Soir Bleu, for example, represents the Parisian subjects that we recognise from his earlier watercolours: the pimp, the prostitute, the bourgeois couple at a café. He presents it in 1914 and it is a total fiasco. The critics say he is being ‘too French’. They don’t want that anymore. He rolls up that canvas and leaves it in his studio, where it will only be re-discovered after his death. It was a personal choice and a critical failure, and it becomes his last, great ode to his passion for French modern painting."

So what side of Hopper does the exhibit highlight?

“In a museum in the United States, Hopper will always be presented as a textbook American painter; he will never be presented next to Matisse, or Picasso, or Max Beckmann: he is always found in the American wing. I think that limit in the reading of Hopper considerably reduces the possibility of discovering his infinite richness and sophistication. The goal of this exhibit is to show him in a different light (…)."

“His sophistication is on display in the painting Hotel Room. The inspiration for the painting comes from Rembrandt’s Bathsheba at Her Bath, which is at the Louvre. Hopper transposes that scene to the most common American hotel room. That is part of Hopper’s genius: his ability to infuse the world of Greek mythology, or of the great philosophical struggles of Western Europe, into the an ordinary American reality.”

Date created : 2012-10-15

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