American Modern: Hopper to O'Keeffe, August 17, 2013–January 26, 2014
Director, Glenn Lowry: Edward Hopper's House by the Railroad was the first painting to enter the Museum of Modern Art's collection. It embodies a key theme in American art during the first half of the twentieth century: the clash between rapid modernization and an older way of life, based in rural traditions.
Curator, Kathy Curry: I think of it as a portrait of a home—quiet and lonely. And it sits by itself, in shadow and light, with a clear sky behind it, and we wonder what's happening. Have the people moved away? Are they still here? Why has the railroad been built so close to the home?
Glenn Lowry: By the early twentieth century, railroads crisscrossed the entire nation, allowing for easy travel and exchange of goods. Hopper painted the tracks from a vantage point so they appear to slice off the bottom of the house. A train running across these tracks would obscure it entirely.
Hopper studied modern life and captured its anxieties and uncertainties. But he remained committed to realism. Here he is reading from an essay he wrote in 1953.
Artist, Edward Hopper: Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the intellect for a pristine imaginative conception. The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form, and design.
MoMA Audio: Collection, 2008
Curator, Ann Temkin: House by the Railroad is very much a portrait of a house. And I think the loneliness of the house is what really comes through in the painting. You would think that there would be some kind of activity, perhaps, on this bright, sunny day. And yet there is this stillness that pervades the canvas. Some people have speculated that the railroad tracks in front of the house imply movement. And of course, there is no train. But the implication of movement in those tracks makes you all the more aware of the absolute lack of movement in this picture.
House by the Railroad is the first painting that was acquired by The Museum of Modern Art, in 1930. It is a painting that now we think of as melancholy. Hopper himself insisted that there was nothing emotionally expressive about his paintings that they were, in fact, just factual. But when we look at this picture today, there is so much feeling. I think it is really that feeling and not the objectivity that makes Hopper so much more of an enduring artist than so many of his peers.