Hotel Lobby

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
oil on canvas
Dimensions
32-1/4 x 40-3/4 in. 40-1/2 x 48-1/2 x 3-3/4 in. (framed)
Credit line
William Ray Adams Memorial Collection
Accession number
47.4
Collection
Currently On View

Three nameless guests and a desk clerk occupy the disquieting, airless space of Hotel Lobby.

The cheerlessness of the foyer is enhanced by the lack of rapport among the figures.

Hopper is renowned for paintings infused with loneliness and banality.

From the artist to (Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery, New York) in 1943;{1} Mr. and Mrs. Henry R. Hope, Bloomington, Indiana, in 1945;{2} given by them as part of the William Ray Adams Memorial Collection to the John Herron Art Institute (now Indianapolis Museum of Art) in 1947.{3}

{1}See Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York, 1995, vol. 3, cat no. O-324, and vol. 4 (CD Rom) reproduces Record Book III, p. 1, indicating it was delivered to Rehn Gallery on 4 January 1943.
{2}Ibid., vol 4. A now detached label in IMA Historical File (47.4) indicates that the painting was purchased by the Hopes out of the 56th Annual American Exhibition held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1945.
{3}Mrs. Henry R. Hope, née Sarahanne Adams, was the daughter of William Ray Adams.
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Waiting for the Unknown

“Themes of loneliness, transience, and alienation permeate the haunting images of Edward Hopper. Though he resisted the label, Hopper was a premier practitioner of American Scene Painting - a Depression-era movement that rejected modernism and other European influences, electing instead to render uniquely American subjects in a realist style.

Hotel Lobby presents an image of people who are both traveling and suspended in time. Nameless guests, they occupy a bleak and airless space; what they wait for is unknown. A clerk, nearly hidden in the shadows, observes the scene. The composition's constricting geometry and harsh, raking light reinforce the disquieting mood of the carefully constructed setting. Hopper frequently attended Broadway plays, which he preferred to view from the balcony, a predilection that may explain the scene's elevated and oddly theatrical vantage point.

Hopper, a successful commercial artist long before his paintings received critical acclaim, was keenly aware of European modernism, yet it had little impact on his work. As his biographer Lloyd Goodrich wrote: ‘Hopper's art from the first had been opposite to the general trends of modernism: instead of subjectivity, a new kind of objectivity; instead of abstraction, a purely representational art; instead of international influences, an art based on American life.’”

Lee, Ellen Wardwell, Anne Robinson, and Alexandra Bonfante-Warren. Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2005, p. 151.

The Real vs. Internal World

“George Segal: …The reason I admire him so much is that he never stopped looking at the real world—with all the danger of being a naturalistic illustrator. Now, there’s a difference being an illustrator (and he made his living that way and it must have caused him untold private agony). But, for him to use the real stuff of the world and somehow—not suddenly but painstakingly, painfully, slowly—figure out how to stack the elements into a heap that began talking very tellingly of his own deepest inner feelings, he had to make some kind of marriage between what he could see outside with his eyes, touch with his hands, and the feelings that were going on inside. Now, I think that’s as simply as I can say what I think art is about. Take, for example, the drawing for Hotel Lobby and the painting. The drawing he obviously did in his notebook while standing in a hotel lobby. There’s an entire series of subtle shifts, changes, that I think are equivalent to all the shifts and changes that go on in the most sophisticated Cubist paintings by Picasso or Braque, shifts and changes that Hopper made in order to arrive at an architecture and internal state of mind, which I like enormously.”

Levin, Gail. “Artists’ Panel: Joel Meyerowitz, George Segal, William Bailey,” Art Journal 41 (Summer 1981): 151, fig. 1.

Reading as Escape

“Like sailing, Hopper considered reading an escape—he was himself a voracious reader. When a solitary figure reads, the need for escape may be internally generated (Hotel Room (1931), Compartment C, Car 293 (1938)); but when a figure is with others, reading becomes a way of avoiding human communication (Barbershop (1931), Room in New York (1932), Hotel Lobby (1943), and Chair Car (1965)).”

Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995, 1: 83; 3: 296.

Models and Props

“On January 4, 1943, Hopper delivered to the Rehn Gallery a new oil painting, which provides mute evidence that the armistice of late summer held. Jo (Hopper’s wife and muse) struck poses for each of the two female figures and marshaled an array of props. The seated matron with the piercing glance wears a plumed hat, fur coat, scarlet dress with a blue brooch, and sensible shoes on firmly planted feet. The younger blond woman, reading, wears a blue dress cut to above her elbows and knees, baring her arms and long legs that extend relaxed, slightly crossed, to feet scarcely wrapped in flimsy straps and balanced casually on spike heels.

For Jo there was plenty to do, since Edward made at least ten preparatory sketches and the attitudes and dress of the women figure largely. As he had for Nighthawks, Edward altered the sketches in the final work to emphasize separateness. Sketches show the matron in colloquy with her elegant male companion, but on the canvas the two look apart. A sketch shows a seated man gazing across the hotel lobby. In the painting, seated in his place, the young woman regards her book.

Also as in Nighthawks, architecture frames a scene in which light picks out figures theatrically and implies potential drama: there the two men in their respective detachments from the lurid woman, here the nuanced styles, postures, and positions of the two women in relation to the imposing male. The architecture and dress in Nighthawks are plebeian, street vernacular, suggesting the kind of place in which the Hoppers habitually ate. Hopper endows the hotel with an architecture ornately classical, fluted columns and ionic capitals, and his figures are of commensurate class, more like the world of Rehn’s clients, Hopper’s collectors, or the uncomfortable hotels on the trips to jury various shows when the tab was paid by the host. The fur coat was Jo’s, both a recurrent prop in the pictures and a fixture at the grand museum openings she loved. Filling out this scene of power and patronage, the picture framed in ornate gold on the wall depicts what Hopper himself refused to paint in the West—the heroic peaks and valleys captured by Bierstadt and others, which this context represents as a cliché. Identifying human restlessness with the American push for change, Hopper presents the hotel as a typical American building, as James had written in The American Scene: ‘a synonym for civilization, …the American spirit most seeking and most finding itself.’”

Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography. New York: Rizolli, 2007, pp. 358-359, 383.

Reception

“Publicity flowered when Hotel Lobby won the Logan Institute Medal and a five-hundred-dollar prize in the Annual Exhibition of the Chicago Art Institute. A Chicago critic who had previously praised Hopper’s work, C. J. Bulliet, wrote that though he ‘ranks close to No. 1 for me among all American painters …Mr. Hopper is getting a little lazy about the excellent formula he has hit. Hotel Lobby is typical Hopper, but Hopper that has lost something of its kick. Maybe Hopper is a drug that wears itself out on the patient.’ At home, the waitress at Dixie Kitchen restaurant proudly announced that she had read about Edward’s honor in Time, and reproductions of Hotel Lobby appeared in Art Digest and Art News.”

Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography. New York: Rizolli, 2007, pp. 358-359, 383.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Themes of loneliness, transience, and alienation permeate the haunting images of Edward Hopper. Though he resisted the label, Hopper was a premier practitioner of American Scene Painting-a Depression-era movement that rejected modernism and other European influences, electing instead to render uniquely American subjects in a realist style.

Hotel Lobby presents an image of people who are both traveling and suspended in time. Nameless guests, they occupy a bleak and airless space; what they wait for is unknown. A clerk, nearly hidden in the shadows, observes the scene. The composition's constricting geometry and harsh, raking light reinforce the disquieting mood of the carefully constructed setting. Hopper frequently attended Broadway plays, which he preferred to view from the balcony, a predilection that may explain the scene's elevated and oddly theatrical vantage point.

Hopper, a successful commercial artist long before his paintings received critical acclaim, was keenly aware of European modernism, yet it had little impact on his work. As his biographer Lloyd Goodrich wrote: "Hopper's art from the first had been opposite to the general trends of modernism: instead of subjectivity, a new kind of objectivity; instead of abstraction, a purely representational art; instead of international influences, an art based on American life."

A nation's art is greatest when it most reflects the character of its people.
-Edward Hopper, 1933