Ashcan School · Essay · Hudson RIver · Works on Paper

Room with a View: The Hopper Home in Nyack, New York

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Situated along the Hudson River, the town of Nyack, New York has been a popular fishing spot since the pre-Colonial period. The Tappan American Indians named the area near the river “Nay-Ack,” which is an Algonquin term for corner or ‘point,’ and would visit the area in the summer to fish and collect oysters.[1] After selling their property in Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn in 1670, the Tappan moved to the area beneath Hook Mountain, north of Upper Nyack.[2] The town as it stands today was incorporated in 1872, after which it became a major commercial center in Rockland County through industries like shipbuilding, sandstone quarrying, and shoe manufacturing. In 1991, the town was home to the Stambovsky v. Ackley court case, which ruled that the home at 1 LaVeta Place was legally haunted in what has been nicknamed the “Ghostbusters ruling.”

Nyack would become a major theme in the work of the iconic American artist Edward Hopper, who depicted the town from different vantage points throughout his career. Born in Nyack in 1882, Hopper was descended from Dutch heritage on his mother’s side, which owned several historic homes in the area.[3] The American Colonial-style home at 82 North Broadway where Hopper grew up had been built by his grandfather, John DeWint Smith, for his grandmother after they moved to the town in 1852.[4] Hopper’s comfortable middle-class upbringing, which included private school for he and his sister, cultivated his fondness for this charming area along the Hudson. The fun he had is visible in an early drawing from 1900 of one of their elaborate campsites, featuring a flagpole and picnic table, titled Camp Nyack, Greenwood Lake [fig. 1].

By 1899, Hopper was commuting from Nyack to study at the N.Y. School of Illustrating at 9 West 14thStreet in New York City. Though more of a trade school than an art school, the experience encouraged him to become a fine artist as “commercial work was as alien to his natural bent.”[5] Despite spending most of his time in Manhattan, many of Hopper’s drawings from this period depict local scenes of Nyack, including Hook Mountain, Nyack(c. 1899) of the promontory point overlooking the Tappan Zee [fig. 2]. This watercolor places Hopper in a long tradition of Hudson River Valley artists who have captured Hook Mountain, beginning in the 1860s with Sanford Robinson Gifford, Albert Bierstadt, and Jasper Francis Cropsey.[6] As evident by this drawing, Hopper began working with ink wash at the same time he began moving away from the correspondence course the N.Y. School of Illustrating towards a fine arts education.

After transferring in the fall of 1900 to the New York School of Art, formerly known as the Chase School at 57 West 57thStreet, Hopper embarked on a short phase influenced by the Ashcan School. At the New York School of Art, Hopper studied under the founder, William Merritt Chase, as well as with members of the Ashcan group, including Robert Henri and John Sloan.[7] At the tail end of his studies, circa 1906, Hopper completed an oil study of his childhood bedroom at the family home in Nyack that is reminiscent of all three of his mentors [fig. 3]. The broad, flat planes of color in the bedroom wall and bed sheet draw on Chase and Henri’s affinity for the work of the French painter Édouard Manet and the dark tones of Spanish painting.[8] The subject matter of a dark interior, meanwhile, demonstrates the influence of Sloan, who was known for his muted interior scenes of the famous Manhattan bar McSorley’s [fig. 4]. The resulting impression is somewhat somber – perhaps reflecting Hopper’s commitment to his art.

Though Hopper had made the leap from illustration to painting in 1901, he continued to draft images of his beloved hometown until the fall of 1906, when he moved abroad to Paris.[9] Hopper’s dedication to draughtsmanship during this period may have been related to his love for the Gilded Age painter John Singer Sargent, who was known as a prolific draughtsman. In fact, it was the artist Rockwell Kent who referred to Hopper as ‘the Sargent’ of his art classes.[10] In the exquisite drawing The Family House at Nyackfrom 1906, Hopper captured both his love for his family homestead and the depth of his art training [fig. 5]. The almost unobstructed view of the Tappan Zee in this drawing symbolizes those early years when Hopper was setting the foundations to become one of the greatest American Realist painters. Largely unchanged today, perhaps this view was an au revoirfor Hopper, who would leave for Paris soon after [fig. 6].

Lizzie Frasco

Citations

[1] The name “Nayack” was first recorded on June 25, 1707 in Tappan Dutch Church, New Jersey. McComb, Henry G. “Rockland County,” The National Municipal Gazetteer(Plattsburgh, NY: The Target Exchange, 2000), 463.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography(Berkeley: University of California, 1998), 5.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Levin, Edward Hopper, 29.

[6] Ibid., 31.

[7] Ibid., 33-40. Hopper first took classes with William Merritt Chase when he arrived at the school in the fall of 1900; Chase often held portrait and still-life courses where students worked from set-ups. By the fall of 1902, Robert Henri had come to the New York School of Art and was followed by John Sloan in 1906, who was brought on to give Henri time off to complete a commission.

[8] Hopper recalled, “At the Chase school, we had painted like Manet. Henri was a great admirer of Manet, who had been influenced by the Spaniards, flat, low tones, dark.” Citation 48, Levin, Edward Hopper, 40.

[9] Levin, Edward Hopper, 33-36.; 48.

[10] Ibid., 43.

Images

Fig. 1 – Edward Hopper, Camp Nyack, Greenwood Lake, 1900, graphite pencil on paper, Whitney Museum of American Art.

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Fig. 2 – Edward Hopper, (Hook Mountain, Nyack), c. 1899, watercolor and graphite pencil on paper, Whitney Museum of American Art.

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Fig. 3 – Edward Hopper, Artist’s Bedroom, Nyack, c. 1905-06, oil on composition board, Whitney Museum of American Art.

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Fig. 4 – John Sloan, McSorley’s Back Room, 1916, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College.

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Fig. 5 – Edward Hopper, The Family House at Nyack, 1906, Pencil on paper, Signed and dated 1906, lower right.

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Fig. 6 – The Hopper Homestead today, now known as the Edward Hopper House Museum & Study Center.

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