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.