Thursday, July 21, 2011

Brief summary of the life and work of Edward Hopper(1882-1967)

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Edward Hopper was born in the small Hudson River town of Nyack, in New York, on July 188. He lived in a middle-class family who owned a dry goods shop where he worked when he was a boy. By the time he was 17 he had decided to be an Artist, but his parents persuaded him to begin by studying commercial illustration, which they thought was a more secure career path to take.

He began studying at the New York School of Illustrating, but a year later transferred to the New York School of Art where Hopper worked under Robert Henri, one of the first American Realists. He stayed at the School of Art for 6 more years after deciding to go and study in France. With his parents help he moved to Paris in 106, but was disappointed with the Modern Art Movement there.

“Whom did I meet? Nobody. Id heard of Gertrude Stein, but I dont remember having heard of Picasso at all. I used to go to the cafes at night and sit and watch. I went to the theatre a little. Paris had no great or immediate impact on me.”

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Hopper also visited London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels. The picture that seems to have impressed him most was Rembrandts The Night Watch in Amsterdam. After his first trip to Europe, Hopper made regular visits to Spain and France and the rest of Europe for the next few years. His travels in Europe influenced his paintings, and their subjects but they still failed to attract anyone’s attention. Because of this he went back to American subjects in 11 and made his first sale and solo exhibition, at the Whitney Studio Club in 10. He didn’t make much money from selling his painting’s, instead he made a living from selling prints and working as a commercial illustrator.

In 1, when Hopper was 41, he married his neighbour Jo Nivison, who he new when he was a student. After their marriage Hopper became more successful with his painting’s and his second exhibition was a sell out. Hopper and his wife bought a car with the money that he had made and began travelling around America. He painted many landscapes in this period of his life which gave him the title of one of the most famous American realists of the inter-war period, but his career in painting slowed down gradually and ended with the rise of Abstract Expressionism. Hopper died in 167, 10 months before his wife.

Edward Hoppers work relates to mine, because in my painting I am trying to create a sense of realism. Hopper’s work looks extremely realistic, and has a photographic quality to it, but it isn’t like a photo-realist painting. I want to create the same kind of effect in my work, without making it look dull, flat, and lifeless (which can sometimes be the result when being too fussy with a painting). To do this I will need to look at light, the effects of light, and the way shadows fall on the objects in the painting, as this is the way I believe Hopper make his paintings look the way they do. There is also some amount of detail, and precision in his paintings which, again I will have to try and include in my painting.

All of Hoppers paintings, whatever the subject, conveyed an atmosphere of loneliness and solitude. He painted stark scenes of deserted streets at night, harsh New England landscapes, desolate petrol stations, lighthouses, hotels, offices and half empty cinemas.

Many of the subjects are painted at night which was very rare in the past because there was no artificial light. Hopper was the first person to do this.

Being a regular visitor of the cinema, Hopper’s work often had a cinematic quality, with wide screen views and scenes that could almost be stills from a Hitchcock film. His paintings also often look like they are part of a story. He often painted people together in an ambiguous way which could suggest anything was happening or being said between. them. Many of Hopper’s later paintings which are not landscapes have people in them, but never more than or 4. They are not usually the main subject of a painting but still play a part in creating atmosphere or a particular scene, and although Hopper was a realist all of the people in his paintings have mask like faces.

I think this way of drawing people was supposed to make them look anonymous and characterless. The people also rarely have any facial expressions, this is supposed emphasise the ambiguity of the painting, and stress the peoples separateness from each other.

As many of Hopper’s paintings are of houses or contain buildings and street scenes his work often has an architectural quality to it. There are strong, strait, horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines which make up the shapes in the painting. Light and shade is also used for pattern rather than being used to show the shape and position of an object, and there is always a strong contrast between light and dark in Hopper’s paintings.

A typical example of one of Hopper’s painting’s is Nighthawks (14). He said that when he painted the scene he was unconsciously “painting the loneliness of a large city” but the painting itself shows nothing but a “restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where to streets met.” The painting also has a cinematic look to it because of the wide angle, and the Humphrey Bogart type character on the right. In the painting there is a couple, together in the bright light of the bar, but there is also the lonely man half in the shadow. Further to the left there is the deserted city. The bar is the only source of light in the painting, this emphasises how isolated it is, and how isolated the third drinker is.

This painting Drug Store (17) is quite similar to Nighthawks in it’s appearance. The sense of loneliness is created by the subject being the only light source in the painting, and spreading its light out over the pavement in front, but there is also the great contrast between the light and the shadow that surrounds it. The fact that there is no one around to see what is in the window of the store, and what is being advertised also contributes to the sense of isolation in he painting. In a way this painting is a prediction of Pop Art, with the use of lettering and brand names, before this letters were hardly ever painted. The painting can also be looked at as a comment on name brand society and advertising.

This painting Railroad Crossing (1) is supposed to show the technological progress in America , and how nature is being affected by this. The are the woods and fields, and the house, railway track and the telegraph poles. The fact that the house is a similar colour and blends in with the field suggest some sort of harmony between the two systems. The railroad and signals in the painting are used is a dividing line between the domesticated, tame nature around the house, and the more wild, uncontrollable woods behind. The house and railroad signs, being symbols of Civilisation in contrast to the woods behind also say that Nature and Civilisation will always be separate.

This painting Railroad Sunset (17) is very similar to Railroad Crossing except the message it gives about nature and civilisation is slightly different.Here the railroad and signals are in the foreground but slightly to the side, so we look past them and out towards the open, unspoilt landscape, which seems more welcoming than in Railroad Crossing. We can still see the railway track, glistening in the light, marking the divide between civilisation and nature. The painting isn’t painted in Hopper’s usual style. It is much more expressive, and he uses colour more freely, flat colour is also created by using many colours in a pattern, which can be easily seen in the blue at the top. This is a more Modernist approach than Hopper usually takes to his paintings. Again there is a cinematic look created by using a wide angle and composition.

Edward Hopper was one of the most influential American Realists of his time who also inspired other art movements, like Pop Art. Unfortunately, his importance in the history of art was not realised until after his death.

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