Notes from the Road: An American in Paris

Art appraiser and traveler Nan Chisolm stands in front of a replica of Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

If you are lucky enough to be visiting Paris before January 28, 2013, I would urge you to see the Edward Hopper exhibition at the Grand Palais. This retrospective tracks the artist’s career from his early 20th century illustrations to some of the last pictures he painted in the 1960s. And while it is always a pleasure to see Nighthawks and other iconic works, an unexpected pleasure of the exhibition is the inclusion of a large number of paintings by the European and American contemporaries Hopper knew or admired.

Hopper made three trips to Paris between 1906 and 1910. While not impressed by the avant garde work of Picasso or Matisse, he did appreciate the paintings of Manet, Degas, Vallotton, Marquet and Sickert. I especially loved seeing A Cotton Office in New Orleans by Edgar Degas. In addition to its enormous appeal, this work provides a kind of perfect counterpoint to Hopper’s depictions of the Louvre and the Seine, as Degas was the only French Impressionist to travel to America.

Much has been written about the sense of melancholy and isolation which some feel permeate the canvasses of Hopper. But he was notoriously reluctant to discuss the deeper meanings of his subjects. Context aside, the precocious talents of the young Hopper in the 1906 work Stairway at 48 Rue de Lille, Paris are obvious. A subtle mood has been created through the interplay of light and shadow. Nearly 60 years later, in Sunlight in an Empty Room, the artist is still exploring the theme of seemingly empty spaces — environments devoid of people or objects that continue to grab our attention.

Hopper, the quintessential American painter, is being celebrated in Paris; the exhibition offers a treat for the eyes as well as much food for thought.

Nan Chisholm

Nan Chisholm is an art consultant and appraiser of 19th- and 20th-century paintings. After a long association with Sotheby’s, she founded her own business in 2003. She has appeared as a fine art appraiser on “Antiques Roadshow” since its inception in 1995.

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