Happy 134th Birthday, Edward Hopper!

Artist Edward Hopper was born 134 years ago today in Upper Nyack, New York. There are a great many painters who worked during the Cladrite Era whose work we admire, but if asked to choose our favorite, Mr. Hopper would get the nod. Here are 10 EH Did-You-Knows:

  • Hopper was raised in a strict Baptist home. His parents encouraged and supported the young Edward’s childhood interest in painting and drawing.
  • His first signed oil painting was Rowboat in Rocky Cove, painted in 1895, when he was just 13.
  • Hopper was greatly influenced by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. “I admire him greatly,” he once said. “I read him over and over again.”
  • Hopper’s first art studies were via a correspondence course that he began in 1899. He then studied for six years at the New York School of Art and Design, the forerunner of Parsons School of Design, now part of The New School. Among his instructors were painters William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri.
  • In 1905, Hopper took a part-time job with an advertising agency, but soon came to realize he had little interest in commercial illustration, though he used his illustrator skills to help pay the bills for more than 15 years.
  • The first of Hopper’s many lighthouse paintings was Squam Light, painted in 1912 near Gloucester, Massachusetts.
  • In 1910s and early ’20s, Hopper’s etchings of urban scenes in Paris and New York garnered the first attention he received from the public.
  • His first solo exhibition opened in January 1920 at the Whitney Studio Club, the precursor to the Whitney Museum of American Art.
  • Hopper’s wife, Josephine Verstille “Jo” Hopper (née Nivison), was also an artist and a student of Henri; she enjoyed some success into the 1920s, but little after that. After Hopper’s death in 1967, she bequeathed her entire artistic estate, along with her husband’s, to the Whitney, which soon thereafter rid itself of virtually all of her work.
  • Freud’s theories about the subconscious mind held a great interest for Hopper, though he denied embedding psychological meaning in his paintings.

Happy birthday, Edward Hopper, wherever you may be!

Edward Hopper

Number, Please

Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf of What's My Line
(r to l) Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, Bennett Cerf
(Sorry, we couldn’t find Kilgallen’s address or phone number)

There are three types of vintage publications we can’t resist giving at least a quick browse: retail catalogues, school yearbooks, and telephone directories.

So we were delighted to learn that the good folks at the New York Public Library, bless their hearts, recently posted the 1940 phone books for each of the five boroughs of New York.

Direct Me NYC 1940

If you grew up in NYC or your parents or grandparents did, you’ll have fun tracking them down, but even if, like us, you have no connection to NYC that dates back seventy-plus years or, heck, no family connection whatsoever to the Big Apple, this is still a resource you can enjoy, if only for the joy of perusing the telephone exchanges.

We’ll compose a post one day about our affection for these magical words, but today suffice it to say that telephone numbers that begin not with mere digits but with melodic vocables such as Trafalgar, Whitehall, Butterfield, and Bogardus evoke bygone eras like few other verbal artifacts can.

Then there are the advertisements. We don’t know whether there were yellow pages-style business directories for New York City in those days, but these white pages include plenty of ads: Tyson Sullivan theatrical ticket service, Underwood Typewriters, American Pencil Company, Elfinbein’s Baking Corporation: Bakers of Cakes, Pastries and Pies Since 1918.

Then there’s the celebrity spotting. You might have known that artist Edward Hopper lived and worked at 3 Washington Square—that info’s relatively common knowledge—but did you know his phone number was SPring 7-0949?

We’re tempted to punch in those seven digits; we’re willing to bet the current holder has no idea that America’s greatest painter (in our humble opinion) once took calls at that number.

Then there’s What’s My Line? doyenne Arlene Francis. In 1940, she was a working actress, having appeared in eight Broadway shows and a movie or two. She was married to one Neil Agnew, who worked in the sales department for Paramount Pictures, and they lived at 320 Park Avenue. Their phone number was WIckersham 2-9486. They had separate listings in the phone book, which was probably a good thing, as they were to be divorced just five years later.

Arlene lived just a short stroll away from Bennett Cerf, who would be her fellow What’s My Line? panelist and in 1940 was already the publisher behind Random House. Cerf’s phone number was PLaza 3-0230, and he lived at 20 East 57th Street, just six blocks away from Francis. One wonders if they were yet acquainted in 1940.

In search of a forgotten diner

It’s a pleasure — and even something of a relief — when one discovers that another individual shares one’s interests, even one’s obsessions.

As big Edward Hopper fans, we’ve long wondered where stood the diner that inspired what is perhaps Hopper’s best-known work, Nighthawks.

Finally, we gleaned from one source or another that the setting was supposed be somewhere along Greenwich Avenue.

We often pondered, as we wandered that stretch of street in the Village, which corner it might be, and we had sort of decided it was the building at 118 Greenwich, at the corner of Greenwich and 13th Street, just east of Eighth Avenue.

We didn’t really have any solid evidence to support our hypotheis; it was a more of a hunch.

Our brother in Hopper obsession, Jeremiah of Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, wasn’t content, as were we, to idly wonder as he wandered the streets of the Village. He set out to pinpoint, once and for all, exactly which corner it was that housed the diner that inspired Hopper.

Did he solve the mystery? You’ll have to read his account to learn the truth.