Q and Art: Just Looking
July 22, 2014
This post is part of an ongoing series on Eye Level: Q and Art, where American Art's Research department brings you interesting questions and answers about art and artists from our archive.
Question: In Edward Hopper's Cape Cod Morning, what is the woman looking at?
Answer: That's a great question. However, the answer is we don't know! The woman's gaze is fixed on a place that is beyond the border of the painting.
A 1955 TIME magazine article recorded the following conversation about Cape Cod Morning between Hopper and his wife, Jo:
"It's a woman looking out to see if the weather's good enough to hang out her wash," she explains. "Did I say that?" Hopper rumbles in contradiction, "You're making it Norman Rockwell. From my point of view, she's just looking out the window, just looking out the window."
Jo knew that Hopper did not want his paintings to tell specific stories. She may have made her comment to needle Hopper who was notoriously reticent with interviewers. Hopper's focus in the scene was the placement of the solitary figure within the window and the effect of strong sunlight on the figure and the house. Although Hopper insists that the woman in the painting is "just looking out the window", her attentive posture and confinement within the window infuses the scene with a tension that contradicts the impassive description of a woman simply looking out a window.
In 1953 Hopper wrote: "Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world." Hopper avoided narratives, yet he strove express his "inner life" in his work. It is Hopper's emotion that makes Cape Cod Morning grab our attention, causes us to ask "what is she looking at?", and makes it a painting that is difficult to forget.
To learn more about Edward Hopper look for the following resources online and at your library.
- Edward Hopper and the Burden of (Un)Certainty, Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture with Kevin Salatino, September 19, 2012
- Smithsonian American Art's An Edward Hopper Scrapbook
- Oral history interview with Edward Hopper, 1959 June 17, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
- Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist by Gail Levin (New York: Norton with the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980)
- "Gold for Gold", Time, May 30, 1955, pg. 72.
Hopper's Cape Cod Morning is part of the museum's exhibition Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection on view in American Art's First Floor West gallery until August 17. Listen to museum director, Betsy Broun, discuss Cape Cod Morning, along with other artworks in the Roby Collection, in an recent interview with NPR. And, celebrate Edward Hopper's birthday today with us by taking a look at the American Art Museum's An Edward Hopper Scrapbook.
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