Hopper’s Yachts (ii)`

In 2013,the U.S. Postal Service continued with its American Treasures series by issuing the 10th entry, a Forever Stamp featuring Edward Hopper’s sailboat painting,


The original is Hopper’s The Long Leg which has the hallmarks of many of his paintings.  In particular, there is the brilliant handling of light: the sunlight and the blue reflections on the sail of the yacht, the variation in the tones of the sea and the long expansive of beach. Here the structure of the sand dunes and the lighthouse (taken from Lighthouse at Two Lights) balancing the background which also serves to anchor the centre of the painting.


The Mary Mckean of Wellfleet  is a painting of a similar, if not identical yacht, sailing past the small sandspit, ploughing through the same corrogated iron waves that we see in Groundswell.  This treatment creates a stylised picture of an idyllic summer scene.


Structurally, this painting is very similar to The Long Leg.  The yachts are reaching into the wind and the middle part of the painting is anchored by a strip of land in both cases.What makes Mary Mckean  different is the care and attention that Hopper has taken with the light on the sail of the yacht.  There is a subtle gradation of light and shadow ranging from the reflected light from the sand spit to the bright light of the top of the gaff rigged sail.  The bright sunlight on the mainsail leads into the lighter coloured jib. From there the movement of the painting is along the sandspit, horizon and the line of clouds which creates a sense of movement of the yacht moving across the painting.

There’s a similar sense of energy in Sailing which is an altogether more simple painting.


 Yawl in a Swell  features a yacht going over a wave in beautifully layered painting. The hull of the yacht is plunging over a wave embedding the boat in the  blue of the sea. The sails are framed by the lighter blue of the sky and the clouds which are reflected in the shadow on the mainsail of the boat. Its wonderfully joyous and energetic celebration of sailing.


 The Lee Shore is a more complex and enigmatic painting.   There are three horizontal structures in the painting. The first is the land that the house is situated on. It looks like grass but it could very easily be water giving the impression that the house is floating.  The next level as the ocean where the boats are sailing. The final layer is the large background of sky and cloud.But it’s the three central elements of the painting, the two yachts in the house which is so intriguing. The larger yachts  almost appears  to be emerging from the house and setting off in pursuit of the smaller boat.


At a technical level, it’s also intriguing. The yachts are on different tacks.  For the larger yacht, the wind is coming from right-hand side of the painting whereas for the smaller yacht the wind is coming from the left-hand side of the painting. Curious.