Currently on a nationwide tour of the U.S. is a partial retrospective of twentieth-century painter Edward Hopper. Unique in its Chicago presentation, it is shown alongside the watercolors of Winslow Homer, prompting an insightful dialogue into the evolution of realist painting in America. Yet, however unintentionally, experiencing the broad career of that seminal nineteenth-century painter and draughtsman leaves much of the work of Hopper seeming awkward and stiff by comparison. Often his figures are clumsy, distracting from either an abstract or realist interpretation of space, but his watercolors somehow benefit from a heavy hand applying planar swaths of color. Lighthouses and beach homes become abstract studies of color and light, akin to houses of cards composed of many tiny facets of uniform color. Undoubtedly there is something captivating about the cinematic qualities of the lonely and cryptically narrative arrangements of figures in an urban environment, but Hopper’s deep desire, “[to just] paint light on the side of a house” and explore the interplay of shadow and color finds its strongest representation in his final canvas “Sun in an Empty Room.” (Lisa Larson-Walker)
Through May 10 at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan.