In many of his paintings, Hopper defines the spaces that urban Americans inhabit. Hopper uses these physical locations to define the interior landscape and the psychological state of his subjects.
In Western Motel, a woman sits waiting for someone to come through the motel room door. She is anchored in the frame by the bed and the green motorcar. The details of the hotel room and motorcar give way to the featureless background of the road, the hills and beyond that the empty blue sky. The picture is shot through with loneliness and isolation and the packed suitcase and the sparse furniture of the hotel room add a sense of transience and impermanence. Intermission has some striking similarities to Western Motel. They’re primarily structural. The centre of the paintings is dominated by the figures of the women and in both cases the backgrounds serve to define the emotional content of the painting.
In Intermission, there is a careful modulation of the colours. The colour of the woman’s black dress is modulated in the colouring of the seat. This in turn is captured by the shadow that runs across the painting and which divides the two large grey/blue areas of the wall. These modulations add to the sense of tranquility of the seated woman. In many of his paintings, Hopper’s subjects have come to rest at some point in the journey. In both Hotel Window and Hotel Lobby there is a sense of preparing for the next stage of the journey but without any clear indication of what that may be.
In Room in Brooklyn and most particularly in Sunday with its deserted houses, there is a palpable sense of isolation and loneliness. In Hotel Lobby, the green strip of carpet serves as pathway out of the picture. The woman in the picture has her feet resting on this pathway just as the man in Sunday has his feet resting on the road. In both of these paintings there is a sense of a journey not taken. In the House at Dusk, the people in the picture are framed by the backlit windows of the house, lost amidst the detailed architecture of the building. If Western Motel and Intermission were interior landscapes, House at Dusk defines the human condition in its urban context.
The sturdy brightly-it building stands against a dark and forbidding backdrop of a forest. There is a set of stairs that is lit by the building and which leads into the darkness of the forest. Roads and pathways running into the middle distance constitute a recurrent theme in Hopper’s work. There is an interesting sketch that was the forerunner of this painting
Hopper has removed all the urban clutter in the final version of the painting replacing it with the dark forest and completely changing the emotional tone of the painting.
In the enigmatic Night Window, we have a similar scene, looking from the outside of the building into a room. There is more interior detail in this painting then there is in House at Dusk but it really doesn’t help the viewer understand the picture any more.
It’s very much a picture in which nothing is happening. A woman is bending over to pick something up. A windows open and a curtain is billowing out of it. Light from the room floods out into the night. It is so typical of Hopper, paintings which seem to falls to the moment of no particular significance, neither are beginning nor an end of some narrative. Yet these two paintings are thematically linked to other others that Hopper painted. In Early Sunday Morning, we are not able to see inside the building. The early morning sun illuminates the street in the foreground leaving the rest of the building in shadows.
It’s early morning, no one is awake. But this painting represents a slightly more distance view of the urban landscape, slightly more removed, dispassionate. The same can be said for From Williamsburg Bridge. It is at once a celebration of the urban landscape and the celebration of the emptiness of that landscape. Well, almost empty. There is a woman seated in the second right upper window of the building in the right of painting.
She is the only person in the painting and strangely adds to the sense of loneliness and isolation. It is interesting that in the sketch Bridge that was clearly the forerunner of this painting, the woman does not appear.
In both of paintings the tone is not pessimistic and certainly not suggestive of urban alienation, rather it is reflective,contemplative and melancholy When Hopper turns his attention to the American rural landscape, we see this sense of loneliness, isolation and emptiness revisited.