EDWARD HOPPER: An Intimate Biography by Gail Levin

EDWARD HOPPER: An Intimate Biography

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This sprawling study of his career and marriage sets the great painter of modern bleakness in an important new light but fails to fully illuminate his psyche. Writing on Hopper's (1882--1967) youth, Levin (Art/Baruch College and Graduate School, CUNY) works up hints about his early cultural milieu and hypotheses about his family into tentative psychological sketches. Hopper, she suggests, was a puritan chauvinist whose rectitude masked deep insecurities. In perhaps her strongest sections, Levin treats Hopper's better-documented student years. A prot‚g‚ of the legendary teacher Robert Henri, Hopper struggled to assert himself as a serious artist in the tradition of older contemporaries such as John Sloan. Sojourns in Paris shaped his erotic sensibilities while undermining his allegiance to the cultural nationalism then dominant in the American art world. At age 41, just as he began to receive serious recognition, Hopper married painter Jo Nivison. The diary that she kept during the remaining 40-plus years of Hopper's life serves as Levin's key source. While Edward produced his most successful works, Jo played a crucial role as model, collaborator, and goad. Her own career, however, remained stalled. Jo's resentment of Edward's cruelties--from his refusal to allow her to drive to his physical attacks on her--reinforced her bitterness toward him and the art world generally for belittling her work. Jo's diary records the agony that Edward's painter's block brought them both. The deep motivation for his torturous pace remains an enigma here, however. While reporting Jo's diagnoses of Edward's sadism, Levin never really fleshes out the psychological profile that her early chapters promise. All the same, Levin provides a crucial reference work for further research on the master. Depressing, at times tedious, yet nonetheless compelling, this book bears well the inevitable comparison to one of Hopper's signature tableaus.

Pub Date: Sept. 29th, 1995
ISBN: 0847829308
Page count: 704pp
Publisher: Knopf