Pictorial Palette: Edward Hopper’s New York Movie

"New York Movie" by Edward Hopper, 1939

I have been remiss with my Pictorial Palettes as of late– infuriatingly so, because I truly do love these romantic indulgences of conjecture and color. So I am reinstating the tradition with Edward Hopper’s 1939 piece “”New York Movie.” A departure from our previous palettes, which were full color photo portraits or film stills, this is a celebrated piece of art from one of America’s foremost modern artists.

Edward Hopper’s realistic visualizations of early/mid 20th century America– from “Automat” to “Compartment C” to his seminal “Nighthawks”– are candid, rarely pretty, always pensive and often melancholy. The ominous, dark reality of the brightly lit American Dream, Hopper’s paintings (for me, anyway) are to American art what Charles Bukowski was to American literature and David Lynch is to American film.

"Automat" (1927); "Compartment C" (1938); "Nighthawks" (1942)

Hopper began his career as a rather reluctant  illustrator and, as a freelancer, even designed movie posters. He was an avid movie-goer, and as “New York Movie” shows, was intimately familiar with them. The National Gallery of Art made the observance of this particularly mysterious piece that the movie itself is not the focus here– indeed the image itself is undecipherable– but rather the focus is on the mood and atmosphere of the theater. And, of course, Hopper’s thoughtful usherette. Her interest in the film has, visibly, long since waned and the realities of her own life eat at her there under Hopper’s dim orange glow. Hers is a beautiful, stately silhouette, one you can easily envision draped in a satin gown by Orry-Kelly in an MGM melodrama.

Offset by the ornate movie palace decor of the period, Hopper succeeds in effectively conjuring a figure of  loneliness and melancholy. As Gardner’s Art Through the Ages points out, “motion is stopped and time suspended, as if the artist recorded the major details of a personal memory… [Hopper produced] paintings of overwhelming loneliness and echoing isolation of modern life in the United States.” In “New York Movie,” the movies are still a means of escape to the Depression-era moviegoers in the audience, but for Hopper’s usherette the smoke and mirrors have dissipated and all that’s left is the cold reality waiting outside.

hexes: #4E1120; #A91B17; #083964; #FBB426

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Film writer and social media marketing professional. 2019 Social Ambassador for the 10th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival. Previously: social media associate at Warner Archive and script writer for Turner Classic Movies. Working on a Montgomery Clift biography due late 2020.

2 thoughts on “Pictorial Palette: Edward Hopper’s New York Movie

  1. Kitty, I for one am very happy with your selection for the latest “Pictorial Palette.” Like most, I’m familiar with Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and “Automat,” but I hadn’t seen “New York Movie” before. Hopper’s paintings communicate such a sense of loneliness and isolation. And always, at least it seems to me, there is silence in the solitude. Beautiful work.

  2. In his Palm Beach Post review of David Cole’s “Flags of the World” currently at the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Scott Eyman quotes Cole as saying in regard to his favorite work of art, Hopper’s New York Movie, that “nothing could be more American, more modern, more alienated than that painting.” Yes!

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