City Journal: A Hipper Hopper

Edward Hopper's iconic paintings have always lent an air of mystery, as has the man himself. With a dazzling new show, the MFA brings a New England legend out of the shadows.

Even if you can’t name the artist, you know Edward Hopper’s paintings: Works like Nighthawks and Automat are American pop iconography. The mystery for scholars, however, has been Hopper himself. The famously tightlipped artist cultivated an enigmatic air that fits with the dark loneliness in his most revered images. “We wonder what’s happening in these pictures,” says Carol Troyen, the curator behind the Museum of Fine Arts’ Hopper blowout, opening 5/6—the first in Boston since his death in 1967.

Not content merely to hang some pictures on the walls, Troyen spent four years getting to know Hopper, crisscrossing the country collecting art and plumbing his bio. The 100-painting show features the early Gloucester watercolors that launched his career, as well as the evocative summer scenes painted at his home on Cape Cod. Considered all together, Troyen says, they have the capacity to challenge what we think of Hopper, torpedoing the idea that he was just a Depression-era downer hung up on noirish isolation. It’s not loneliness that Troyen hopes will come through in the show, but rather a certain graceful solitude that’s almost chipper. Almost. —Geoff Gagnon.