Nyack Sketch Log: The Hopper Years

Hopper Houseby Bill Batson

New York County (Manhattan) remains the center of the American art universe. But according to the curator of the current exhibit at the Edward Hopper House, the big bang that created the American modern art cosmos may have happened here in Rockland County.

In “Painters and Paintings of Rockland County: The Hopper Years (1882-1967),” Mark Waller presents the work of the local art scene during the life time of the celebrated painter. Waller, a third generation art and antiques dealer, will be giving a gallery talk on Friday, April 4, at 7p that will remind residents of our region’s pivotal role in American art history.

Edward Hopper House Art Center

The childhood home of Edward Hopper was saved from demolition in the early 1970s by an ad-hoc coalition that included neighbors, Rotarians, labor unions, students and artists.

Thanks to decades of volunteer labor from board members and supporters, the property is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and functions as the Edward Hopper House Art Center.

Today, the Hopper House offers a climate controlled gallery space with a packed schedule of world-class exhibitions and events, managed by a professional staff led by Executive Director, Victoria Hertz. The multi-arts center offers a summer jazz concert series, Music in the Garden, hosts artists-in-residence and organizes lectures and gallery talks.

On March 24, the Edward Hopper House Art Center was selected as one of the best 13 New York art spots not in NYC by the Huffington Post.

Mark Waller, curator of  “Painters and Paintings of Rockland County: The Hopper Years (1882-1967)” will give a gallery talk on Friday, April 4 at 7p as part of the Nyack Art Collective‘s First Friday cultural festival.

The Hopper Years is on display until April 13, 2014. The Hopper House is located at 82, North Broadway, Nyack, NY.

From 1982 -1999, Waller served as Director of Galerie Moderne Ltd  and Co-director of Le Pavillon de Sevres Ltd in London, England. In 2003, Waller and his wife, Stephanie Arvey reopened Gallery Moderne in Piermont. Before he embarked on the 14 years of research that produced “The Hopper Years,” Waller had established himself as an internationally recognized expert on the work of French glass designer Rene Lalique. He has helped mount exhibitions of Lalique’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, in Tokyo, Japan, and the Musée des Art Décoratif in the Louvre, Paris.

Waller became fascinated with the pedigree of painters that lived and worked in his new Hudson Valley home as soon he arrived. In the illustrated catalogue of the exhibit, Waller  described the factors that drew artists to this area.  “As a progressive and open-minded society, the county has historically been an engaging community for artists that have sought refuge in its beautiful Hudson riverside towns and extensive parkland, before, during, and after their greatest successes and creative endeavors,” Waller wrote. “Due to its location a mere 15 miles from Manhattan and its affordability for artists, Rockland has served as a support system for New York City and a gateway to the rest of the Empire State.”

“The Hopper Years” assembles the work of Hopper and 21 of his contemporaries. The criteria for their inclusion is not just the mastery of their medium, but the role they played in shaping the evolution of the fine arts in America. In his argument, Waller calls Rockland County a “cradle” of American modernism. The artists in “The Hopper Years” created groundbreaking art work, organized pivotal exhibits and mentored trailblazing talents, all the things you would expect from the parents of a burgeoning art movement.

Here is a sample of some of the works selected by Waller and a short description of the artists, excerpted from the illustrated exhibition catalogue.

 Robert Henri (1865 – 1929)

Robert Henri’s artistic style and his approach to art attracted such talented students as Rockwell Kent, George Bellows, Stuart Davis, Joseph Stella, C.K. Chatterton, and Rocklanders Edward Hopper and Ruth Reeves.

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Hudson by Robert Henri

By 1895, Henri rejected the traditions of impressionism and academic painting and sought to create more realistic art that reflected modern American urban life. Henri mused, “Art cannot be separated from life. It is the expression of the greatest need of which life is capable, and we value art not because of the skilled product, but because of its revelation of a life’s experience.” This new style of urban scene painted by Henri and other like-minded artists came to be known as the Ashcan School.

In 1907, in response to the refusal of the conservative National Academy of Design to exhibit works by Henri’s circle of artists in its annual show, Henri became an organizer of a group of artists known as “The Eight”. In February 1908, “The Eight” organized its own exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery. The exhibition traveled to other cities such as Newark and Chicago, and sparked discussion about academic painting and the appropriate subject matter for art. Between 1911 and 1919 he organized exhibitions at the MacDowell Club, and in 1913 he helped the Association of American Painters and Sculptors to organize the Armory Show, entitled The International Exhibition of Moderne Art. 

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On the River, Near Rockland Lake, NY, by Arthur Bowen Davies

Arthur Bowen Davies (1862 – 1928) 

Arthur Bowen Davies, a talented mystical painter, printmaker, sculptor, and illustrator, was one of the first American artists, along with Alfred Stieglitz, to patronize the modern art movement. In addition to being an artist, Davies was an influential advocate of modern art in the United States. He organized the 1913 Armory Show – the exhibition largely responsible for bringing modern art to America.

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Munich Street by Vaclav Vytlacil

Vaclav Vytlacil (1892-1984)

Vaclav Vytlacil, born in New York City to Czech immigrant parents in 1892, was a gifted modernist artist and one of the strongest advocates of American abstraction. In the early 1920s, his interest in Paul Cezanne’s work drew him to Europe to study.

While in Europe, Vytlacil studied for six years in Munich at the Royal Academy of Art under Abstract Expressionist, Hans Hofmann. After returning to the United States in 1928, Vytlacil joined the faculty of the Art Students League, where he taught until his retirement in the late 1970s.

Many of his students, such as Louise Bourgeois, Robert Rauschenberg,Knox Martin, James Rosenquist, Frank O’Cain, Cy Twombly, and Tony Smith, went on to become accomplished artists. In Rockland County, Vytlacil’s legacy still lives on at the Art Students League. In 1996, his family donated the artist’s property in Sparkill, New York, and the necessary funding to create the League’s Vytlacil Campus and its international residence program.

Edward Hopper (1882 – 1967)

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Harbor View by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was born in Nyack in 1882 into a middle class family that supported his artistic ambitions. Hopper studied at the N.Y. School of Illustrating from 1899 to 1900 then shifted his focus and transferred to the New York School of Art. After studying at the New York School of Art from 1900 to 1906, he shifted his focus from illustration to the Fine Arts and studied under William Merit Chase and Robert Henri. His classmates included George Bellows, Guy Pene Du Bois, Rockwell Kent, and C.K. Chatterton. Over the next few years Hopper made three trips to Europe, which were very influential on his later work.

After returning to New York in 1910, Edward Hopper struggled for recognition for his paintings and subsequently turned to more commercial endeavors such as illustration. Hopper did, however, exhibit a painting entitled Sailing (1911) at the 1913 Armory Show, organized by fellow Rocklander A.B. Davies.

Hopper Years Catalogue

These images and short biographies of the artists featured in Painters and Paintings of Rockland County: The Hopper Years (1882-1967) were excerpted from an illustrated exhibition catalogue, written by Mark Waller and Savitri Arvey with a foreward by Carole Perry, Executive Artistic Director of the Edward Hopper House Art Center.

Copies of the catalog are available at the Hopper House gift shop, 82 North Broadway, Nyack or at Gallery Moderne 7 Roundhouse Road, Piermont.

In the 1920s, as an artist he was received with greater success. In 1924, he married former classmate Josephine Nivision, who would become his life companion as well as the primary model for his work. In 1933, Hopper’s work was showcased at a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, in which he was praised for his distinct mature style that illustrated the transitory nature of contemporary life. Hopper’s work was featured in several other important retrospective exhibitions throughout this later career, namely at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In 1952, he was chosen to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.

Edward Hopper died in his studio near Washington Square in New York City on May 15, 1967 and Josephine died ten months later. Their collection of more than 2500 works of art was bequeathed to the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The continued vitality of the local arts community in Rockland County is the greatest proof of Waller’s theory. In the conclusion of his curatorial essay, he observes that the legacy of the artists in his exhibit “lives on today at the Edward Hopper House Art Center, the Vytlacil campus of the Art Students League in Sparkill, the Rockland Center for the Arts (ROCA).  Further validation emerged on March 24, 2014, when the Huffington Post listed the Edward Hopper House Art Center as one the 13 best “art spots” not in New York City.

My exhibit, Hopper Country, is on display at the Edward Hopper House Art Center until April 30, 2014. The sketches and short essays included in Hopper Country pay homage, in style and substance, to the impact of Edward Hopper and his village on America and the world.

See also

Hudson, by Robert Henri and On the River, Near Rockland Lake, NY, by Arthur Bowen Davies are Courtesy of Gallery Moderne
Munich Street ,by Vaclav Vytlacil, is from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Nahman
Harbor View, by Edward Hopper Hopper, is from the Arthayer R. Sanborn Hopper Collection Trust

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Nyack Sketch Log: The Hopper Years” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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