Edward Hopper (XIII) – “Portrait of Orleans” from a car about to crash

Hopper’s portraits of buildings, villages, landscapes…, faithful as they may be, are also inner portraits. They quite deliberately represent the painter’s mood and, often times, tell some personal story which may be related to the scene depicted, but as a rule, not at all easily.

This splendid evening view of the intersection between Route 6 and Main Street in Orleans, Massachusetts, in the early 50s is one of the few works by Hopper about which we know some facts relative to its composition and, so, valid clues to its meaning. But before telling them, it is worth the while to watch the painting attentively.

Portrait of Orleans (1950) shows an apparently quiet scene of an almost deserted, and somewhat desolated, crossroads. There is a single person at sight on the walkway in the distance, seemingly looking at the dark interior of a store. Above her figure, a clock shows it is seven o’clock (seven P.M., since the visible sunlight is low to the West) (1). One of the two streetlights is signaling a green “go” towards the onlooker; the other, consequently, shows a stop to the perpendicular direction. There are two parked cars far down the street and a third one a bit nearer, not parked, but oddly missplaced in the middle of the road. Also there is a very tall, isolated light pole that leans to the right; but there are not any power lines on it (or by the way, in all the painting); in fact, it just looks like a not quite holy cross…

At this point of the inspection, the painting is already looking weird and disquieting, as usual with Hopper’s works —It is also evident that the point of view is very low, and tilted to the right, even if not as much as the “cross” itself. It just looks like the perspective of someone in a car turning the corner to the right; even too much to the right… as if going to hit the pneumatic at the feet of the Esso signal.

Now, it is time to know the facts Mrs. Alannah Clark tells us at Sartle.com (here) :

“Edward repeatedly made trips with Jo [his wife, Josephine Nivison] to Orleans to get the right sky for his painting [possibly this one, but most probably the one that preceded it in Hopper’s plans]. He reluctantly let Jo drive for one of the trips and on the way back, as she was about to make a sharp right to avoid an oncoming car (possibly the car in the painting), Edward, being the level-headed husband he was, grabbed the wheel and ran them into a guard post. After the minor crash, he dragged Jo out of the car and onto the ground, where he then proceeded to publicly beat her. If that wasn’t bad enough, he never even used any of the skies he collected on their trips together — he ended up making one up instead.”

My! … I knew that E. Hopper had a nasty character, but not that he was that kind of abuser and beat his wife (I do hate it, but even so, my interest lies solely in his artwork).

If Hopper depicted here an instant before the collision Mrs. Clarke reports —the icy stillness preceding the scare and the chaos—, he succeeded in transmitting the feeling of eeriness and of something that is going wrong and, perhaps, probably… surely, some evil comes… In fact, it was already there, inside the very car.

May the non-electrified post/cross be a sign of repentance or penitence?… It is a thing I might appreciate, aside of the beauty and true masterly craft of the painting as a whole.

[De Young Museum – Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, CA, USA]

(1)Hopper was quite obsessed in showing the exact time of the scenes he depicted; thus there are dozens of paintings with well readable clocks in them. A few signal 7 o’clock, be it in the morning or evening, but I have not yet discovered the reason why –if there is a significant one…

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4 thoughts on “Edward Hopper (XIII) – “Portrait of Orleans” from a car about to crash

  1. Even though the colors of the sky do not reflect those that you see before a tornado – it definitely has that feeling of impending chaos. There seems an overtone of menace to that beautiful light.

    He certainly doesn’t sound like a nice man!


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating post, Li! I have to confess that I don’t know much about Hopper, but reading your article (and previous posts) I’m beginning so see him with different eyes.
    I believe he is one of your favourites? Your enthusiasm is contagious 😊😘

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks a lot for the compliment, Elisabeth ✨
      Yes, I have felt a deep interest for Hopper’s work since I was a kid. We had a reproduction of one of his marines in our dinning room, at home, and my father two more in his studio. Hopper -like other painters- is a bit of a “family affair” as much as Russian literature is for you 🙂
      *Kisses* from Li here! 💜

      Liked by 1 person

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