Finding poetry in the commonplace
Edward Hopper’s interpretive paintings of everyday scenes continue to influence—and inspire—today
Edward Hopper saw Cape Cod as no one else did. The iconic American artist (1882-1967), who was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1956, may be most famous for his 1942 oil “Nighthawks,” a New York evening scene, but his fascination with the rural Cape resulted in more than 100 well-loved works.
In both oils and watercolors, Hopper depicted the scenes he observed from his studio in Truro and from travels around Eastham and Wellfleet. When he ventured outdoors, the artist usually painted from inside his car, a 1925 Dodge that doubled as a sort of studio on wheels. Whether inside or out, Hopper is known for painting the scenes before him—landscapes, colorful homes and small town settings—slightly differently than how they appeared.
“What I wanted to do,” Hopper is famously quoted as saying, “was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.” In 1934 the artist took a step toward that goal, building a summer home on Cape Cod whose sides could catch the sunlight he sought, and from which he could paint the same light glancing off other houses and hills.
Residents of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, Hopper and his wife, Josephine, also a painter, chose a sand bluff overlooking an empty stretch of Fisher Beach in Truro for their sunny spot. Jo had been traveling to Provincetown during summers since she was a girl, and for nearly 40 years the couple continued to return to Truro to sketch and paint. The scenery of the Cape inspired Hopper, and his artwork in turn has inspired Cape Codders for decades.
Finding the places Hopper found and attempting to see them the way he saw them, has become a fascination for a number of the artist’s admirers. One of these is Fitchburg resident Charles Sternaimolo. A photographer and a Hopper enthusiast, Sternaimolo took it upon himself to track down many of these locations and to “recreate” Hopper’s oil and watercolor scenes through the lens of his camera.
According to Sternaimolo—who collaborated with Cape Cod LIFE to create the Past & Present photo series in last year’s Annual Guide—locating the buildings and vistas that Hopper painted several decades ago is a task with inherent complications: the first concerns the Cape’s landscape, which has changed drastically since Hopper’s time; the second, with how the artist transformed the scenes before him while painting them on his canvas.
“Hopper worked in this special time when the landscape was denuded,” Sternaimolo says, “after the trees had been lopped but before urbanization.” Indeed, many of Hopper’s works depict rolling hills and large swaths of land, but Sternaimolo says the exact spots can be difficult to recognize today, because many of those hills are now covered in trees.