Edward Hopper was a master of the use of line and structure and in many of his paintings his use of these two elements is subtle and complex. To understand this technique in its simplest forms, it is useful to look at some of his yacht paintings.
A beautifully elegant demonstration of this very powerful technique is seen in The Martha McKeene of Wellfleet. The painting is a joyous celebration of the joy of sailing and the motion of the boat both over the waves and through the water is conveyed by the structure line of the yacht and its relation to the rest of the painting, particularly the island and clouds on the horizon.
Notice how Hopper takes the line of the gunwale up to the end of the bowsprit and then out to the line of clouds on the horizon. The other strong structural line is down the gaff rig of the mainsail to the line of the jib and then down to the end of the sandspit that the seagulls are sitting on. It’s a wonderful structure that captures movement of the yacht.
Another example is the Yawl Riding a Swell. Again, Hopper uses the lines of the yacht to convey its motion as it begins to slide down the front of the wave.
The way that Hopper focuses the structure of the painting is masterful.
The first line is the line of the wake of the yacht which slides under the rudder and towards the front of the boat. The next line is down the gunwale, again emphasising the forward and downward motion of the yacht. The third line connects the gaffe on the mizzenmast (the mast at the back) to the to the boom of the mainmast. The final line runs down the gaffe on the mainmast through the forestay to the bow the yacht. All of these structural elements focus the movement of the yacht over and down the wave.
The final yacht example example is Groundswell. Here the structural elements of the yacht focus of the viewer on the water on the port side of the yacht. Notice two lines, first there is a line around the gunwale of the yacht and then another along the boom and through the helmsman. Both of these lines lead the viewer’s eye to the buoy on the port side of the yacht.
But there’s another line that comes down through the shadow of the mainsail and through two of the crew on the yacht. It is this line focuses us on something in the water. What It is, we do not know and cannot see but clearly the crew can see it and it is absorbing all their attention. And it is this line that makes this painting so fascinating and enigmatic.