Edward Hopper was fascinated by chunks of stuff and in particular with the way that light fell on large chunks of stuff. Sometimes the large chunk of stuff would be a wall and his rare genius was that he could turn light falling on to a wall or a floor into a work of art, as in the enigmatic Rooms by the Sea.
Hopper is interested in light falling on flat surfaces but in a quite different way in Freight Car at Truro. Here, the derailed goods carriage is set in a very traditional layered Hopper landscape. But while the lines of the layered landscape slope towards the telegraph pole, the railway carriage is a disjointed block of rust set in the middle of this landscape and completely at odds with the rhythm and flow of the painting. The colouring of the railway carriage is also at odds with the lighting in the painting.
Notice that the sun shining from the left-hand side of the painting, yet the right-hand side of the railway carriage is lighter than the end, a quite curious effect of light.
Freight Car at Truro provides an interesting contrast to Railroad Train. There is a sense of finality in Freight Car at Truro, the end of the line if you will. But in Railroad Train, as in so many of Hopper’s paintings, we have a half finished story, the rest of the train is out of the frame, on its way to some unknown destination. The smoke from the engine and the wind in the grass in the foreground give a sense of movement to the painting adding to the idea that the story is only half told.
Structurally, this painting is very typical of Hopper’s work. There are five layers: the layer of grass in the foreground, the rock of the railway embankment, the dark grey of the train, the smoke from the engine and the sky. The layers are linked together by colour, again a typical Hopper touch.
Manhattan Bridge combines the ideas of decay from Freight Car at Truro with the sharp angles of the rusting building in contrast to the sweep of the bridge. It’s a rather more static painting and there is a sense of grace and beauty in the subtle modulations of the light on the concrete of the wharf, the river and the sky that is absent from the Truro painting.
Back of the Freight Station is a wonderful example of Hopper’s ability to transpose the mundane into something quite remarkable. The freight station itself is a beautifully constructed image with a wonderful rhythm in the vertical lines of the freight station, the carriage and the telegraph pole and the horizontal lines of the station, the carriage and the top of telegraph pole.
And then there’s the sweep of the grass verge and the beach, starting in the bottom left hand corner of the painting, touching the freight car and merging with the clouds on the distant horizon. And in a stroke of pure genius, this beautiful structure is punctuated by a fisherman’s boat, drawn up on the beach and running counter to the entire rhythm and structure of the painting.
The rhythms of Cars and Rocks are far more pronounced and obvious. The image of the square block of stone and the square motorcar on the left side of the picture slides away towards the right with the car and the rocks becoming flatter and more angled.
In each of these paintings, Hopper demonstrates his genius for drawing from the jumble of the mundane the elements that created great art.