Friday Art: New York Movie (1939) by Edward Hopper

Hopper’s one of my favorites. His paintings of everyday urban life and the fine line between solitude and loneliness in his figures always ropes me in.

This is one of my favorite Hopper paintings, too. Yeah, probably ‘cus I’m a movie guy, and I also love the way he sets up the mystery in what he’s showing us.

The frame is divided in half by the end of the theater wall, separating what looks like an entrance to the balcony on the right from the lower seats to the left. So we get the juxtaposition of the audience watching the screen on the left to the lone woman leaning against the wall under the bright light off to the side.

The red stripe uniform tells us she’s a bored and/or tired usherette (remember, they had movie theater ushers in 1939). She rests her tired chin on her hand, maybe sighing. She evokes the tired & jaded barmaid of Manet’s Foles Bergere – a lone woman jaded at her job, even though the job is connected to the world of flash and entertainment.

And look at the glimpse of what Hopper offers us on the screen – looks like we can see the top of an actor’s head leaning into what looks like a big movie kiss. Is this the magical cinematic promise/fantasy missing from the reality of the usherette’s life?

Those sorts of themes fit in with the rest of Hopper’s output. I also love the colors in this one – the way he uses the oranges and browns to give us the darkness of the theater, with yellows and greens used for both the movie screen and the brightness of that light, illuminating the reds of the curtains on the balcony stairwell. The texture on the carpet is also a nice touch.

And the year fascinates me – 1939 is known as one of the best years for American film. We got The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind, Ninotchka, Stagecoach, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Wuthering Heights, Dark Victory, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, The Roaring Twenties… all in the same year! Which one of those amazing classic films is the jaded usherette ignoring, I wonder? How jaded must she be to tune out such wonderful movies… unless of course, it’s The Return of Dr. X with Humphrey Bogart as the blood-sucking rabbit-loving mad scientist.

Hey wait, I actually like that one…

I wonder what Hopper’s favorite movies were. I might need to look that up now.

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