American Modern: Hopper to O'Keeffe

Edward Hopper (American, 1882–1967)
House by the Railroad
Oil on canvas
24 x 29" (61 x 73.7 cm)
Given anonymously

Edward Hopper. House by the Railroad. 1925

Oil on canvas, 24 x 29" (61 x 73.7 cm). Given anonymously

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 20th century: the clash between rapid modernization and an older way of life, based in rural traditions.

Assistant 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 20th 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.

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