Compartment C, Car 293 (1938)
A train compartment, a lone woman, reading by a window, the sight of a bridge, a mixture of artificial light with that of a dusk, a lamp shut down; a complex geometric pattern of light and shadows… Pure Hopper, indeed; and a broad compendium of his favourite themes reunited in a single painting, effectively presented to suggest the viewer what he likes most to suggest: quietness, silence, introspection, solitude… along with the gradual, unexplainable feeling that something is about to happen soon.
The cold palette, restricted to blue, green and white, with the wisely disposed lesser touches of yellow and reddish browns, strongly drive our sight to the vacant seat beside the woman (even if she is obviously what we look at first); then our interest goes to what we do not see: the women’s feet and shoes –and possibly, our own feet, since, given the point of view, we seem to be standing just in front of her.
So, what I feel watching the image is that I am entering the compartment (perhaps returning to it); I look at the woman, then at the dubiously available seat, occupied in part by a book or magazine, then at the crepuscular sky through the window, and eventually back at the floor to estimate if these feet (virtually visible to me, with shoes that can only be white or, less probably, navy blue) are in my way to sit down in front of her, at the left… just where the signature of the painter is. So we are in the place of Hopper himself. And so, the woman is a much rejuvenated Josephine Nivison –his wife–, whom in fact posed for the painting as many other times during Hopper’s working life.
Of course, despite the model’s real presence, Hopper could be thinking of a young, smart girl like the one depicted, and fantasizing with (or even remembering) a first encounter with her in a train; in a car that, I am quite sure, really was number 293.
In that case, I wonder what would an extremely introverted man like Hopper say to the girl just at that moment… Anyway, I almost see the girl nodding and moving her legs back and a little aside. At this point, aside of seeing clearly her shoes, I am already feeling the slight rolling of the vagon and the constant noise of its wheels on the tracks.
[IBM Corporate Collection]