Without any doubt, Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper are major figures of the American twentieth-century painting. Contemporary and realist painters, they have been put side by side, as much as pulled apart. Though Hopper himself hated the comparison, we will attempt to analyse in the following paper what unites and divides those artists. After a short presentation of both painters, we willexamine their subject matters, their techniques and methods of painting, as well as the meaning of their work of art.
Before analysing and juxtaposing the work of Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper, let’s introduce briefly our two main characters. As you will see, this will considerably help us understand the similarities as well as the differences between the artists’ paintings.
Norman Rockwellwas born in 1894 and shortly aspired to become an illustrator. At fifteen years old he started to study art full-time: he briefly attended the National Academy of Design before joining the Arts Students League in New-York. He soon began to do illustrations for a magazine published by the Boy Scouts of America. In 1916, he drew his first cover of the Post, the most popular magazine of these days.That was the beginning of an association that lasted for 47 years, involving 321 covers. Norman Rockwell had also designed advertising and commercial illustrations.
Edward Hopper was a contemporary painter of Norman Rockwell. He was born in 1882 and, even as a youngster, showed a real aptitude for art. He therefore went to New-York and enrolled at the New-York School of Art. However, contrary toNorman Rockwell, he had to wait for nearly twenty years before becoming famous. Meanwhile, he worked as a commercial illustrator though he despised doing illustrations for print. His real career as a painter started in 1923 when he won the Logan Prize from the Chicago Society of Etchers and has later been regarded as a major figure of the American twentieth-century painting.
If only one thing wouldhave to be bear mind, it would the following: Rockwell has once said “I've always called myself an illustrator” and definitely liked being one, whereas Hopper disregarded being one and dreamed of exhibitions and museums.
Though having different ambitions, Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell decided to represent American life in a realist manner. Indeed, the latter said “without thinking toomuch about it in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”
Edward Hopper generally placed his paintings within an urban landscape, getting inspiration from various scenes: hotels (Hotel Room, 1931), theatres (New York Movie, 1939), restaurants (Chop Suey, 1929), trains (Compartment C, car 293, 1938), gas stations (Gas, 1940) and many others.He would also place characters within the paintings, appearing as single persons, couples, or groups. Norman Rockwell usually placed himself within the Middle American class, idealizing the country life as he expressed saying “I guess I have a bad case of the American nostalgia for the clean, simple country life as opposed to the complicated world in the city”. He showed boys enjoying a swimming(Hey Fellers Come on In!, 1920), Boy Scout rescuing a kid (A Scout is Helpful, 1941), bonds between generations (Family Grace, 1938)…
Despite the fact that they depicted the same period in America, Edward Hopper and Norman Rockwell expressed entirely opposite feelings in their oeuvres. The latter painted pieces of art full of warmth and jovial feelings. He would even use humorous touches toemphasize the conservatism of the old, the naivety of the young, or the incongruity of the situation. At the opposite, Edward Hopper’s paintings are, in some manners, austere and greatly affected by the great depression of the twentieth century. They all contain an element of uncertainty and doubt, as if the characters had to bear the weight of life and were simple leaves swirling around in the wind...
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