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Welcome to Edward Hopper and the American Hotel. This exhibition celebrates Edward Hopper’s contributions to evolving understandings of hotels, travel, and mobility in America from the 1920s to the 1960s. Consisting of one or two stops in each gallery, this audio guide uses objects in the exhibition as signposts during your journey. Along the way, you’ll explore themes of mobility, transience, rest, and place, animated by voices from primary sources tied to Edward Hopper and the American hotel industry. Critical primary source material comes from the diaries of his wife, fellow artist, and frequent model, Josephine, or Jo, Hopper. Included in this audio guide is the song Peach and Bare by The Coverlets.
Welcome to Edward Hopper and the American Hotel. This exhibition celebrates Edward Hopper’s contributions to evolving understandings of hotels, travel, and mobility in America from the 1920s to the 1960s. We invite you to begin by looking at Edward Hopper’s self-portrait.
Edward Hopper was born in 1882 and worked between New York City and South Truro, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, until his death in 1967. Here, Hopper appears as a young art student of about twenty, still influenced by the style of Robert Henri, his mentor at the New York School of Art. Hopper took illustration and painting classes, commuting daily into New York City from his parents’ house over the Hudson River in Nyack, New York. Hopper’s boyhood room seen to the right, of his self-portrait served as his studio, until he moved into his own space at Washington Square in 1913. In this painting, Hopper explores the elements that will come to define “hotel-ness” in his later compositions – a bed, dresser, lamps, and framed artwork. The same self-portrait, acting as his stand in, appears on the wall in this sparsely populated room.
During his long career, Hopper immersed himself in the world of hotels, motels, and tourist homes, producing paintings, drawings, and illustrations depicting sites in New York and across North America for over forty years. In addition to works by Hopper, the exhibition also showcases artists exploring similar themes, some of whom inspired Hopper, while others demonstrate his strong influence.
Consisting of one or two stops in each gallery, this audio guide uses objects in the exhibition as signposts during your journey. An audio symbol appears next to a work of art indicating each stop. If you are using an audio wand, input the stop number located on the label next to the audio symbol. If you are using your mobile device, select the audio file associated with the stops for each room.
Along the way, you’ll explore themes of mobility, transience, rest, and place, animated by voices from primary sources tied to Edward Hopper and the American hotel industry. Critical primary source material comes from the diaries of his wife, fellow artist, and frequent model, Josephine, or Jo, Hopper. This is one of the first time these diaries have been displayed along with Hopper’s work and documentation of their travels, providing insightful glimpses into their lives. You will also hear selections from correspondence written by the Hoppers on postcards and hotel stationery, and excerpts from publications like Hotel Management, a hospitality services trade magazine for whom Edward Hopper provided cover illustrations in 1924 and 1925.
We hope that you will use this guide to enhance your experience as you uncover new insights and understanding of Edward Hopper and the American Hotel.
The American hotel industry experienced enormous growth from the 1910s to the 1920s, just as Edward Hopper was coming of age as an artist. By 1930, hospitality was a booming business, with 26,000 hotels nationwide operating about 1.5 million guest rooms. Popular trade magazines stimulated this growth and provided guidance for entrepreneurs and managers. Hopper worked for two of these publications. From 1920 through 1923, he produced five covers and seven illustrations for Tavern Topics. In 1924 and1925, he produced eighteen covers for Hotel Management, the most widely read hospitality trade journal. Hopper’s covers created a sleek public face for the notoriously unglamorous work of resort and hospitality services.
For the magazine contents, the editor of Hotel Management had a blunt and practical scope in mind, commenting, “We only want short, pithy, business-building articles that some hotel man has put in practice and that other hotel men could profit by as well.” he wrote, “the thing that will make readers say: ‘There’s a practical idea!’” Hopper’s covers lured the reader to leaf through the pages of a no-nonsense business periodical.
In his paintings of hotels and other interiors, Hopper explored the very subjects found in Hotel Management. Consider, for example, these lines from a 1924 article entitled “The Value of Friendly Decorative Schemes: “By careful thought, each room can be made more homey. For instance, in a room where the hot sun shines in, a cool, refreshing color scheme will do much to make it seem more comfortable. Green blue always gives a feeling of coolness. So do a pale sky blue, sea green, lavender, French gray, pearl gray and white.”
Another Hotel Management article championed the “return to favor of Colonial furniture which took place two or three decades ago, and which resulted in an eager search for…pieces that had been discarded for more modern types.” The mix of modern and old fashioned is apparent in Hopper’s painting, Hotel Lobby, which includes flooring design patterns discussed at length in the magazine. You’ll hear more about hotel lobbies in the next section.
On the first floor…the registration desk is located at a point so the clerk has full view of both entrances, as well as of elevators and stairs…The floors in the entire lobby, including all entrances, are terrazzo with green terrazzo border with the field divided into 18-inch squares. These squares are in green and golden cream color and are divided with heavy bronze dividing strips.
This is a description of a hotel in Missoula, Montana, from the August 1941 Hotel Monthly, reveal the keen attention given to flooring, color scheme, and the organization of an up-to-date lobby space that could be at once both public and private. A similar sensibility animates Hopper’s painting Hotel Lobby and its study drawings, on display nearby, which depict a clerk, elevator, square tiles, and green strip of carpet.
As Hotel Lobby also suggests, however, hotels sought to balance the modern and the old-fashioned. “While undergoing many changes in a program of renovation,” Hotel Monthly reported in March 1942, “Hotel Chatham, New York, has retained the Old English favor of its lobby. The beautifully paneled walls of black oak have been pickled to a silver gray with the result that there is a much brighter, lighter all-over effect, and at the same time highlighting the beauty of the fine wood grain carving. The Tudor ceiling has been retained and painted an oyster white. The old brass fixtures have been silvered and mounted with opaque shades. Color has been added to the room thru the use of brilliant cardinal red and turquoise in the newly upholstered furniture…”
To the left of Hotel Lobby is a space with similar furniture, moldings, carpet and a clerk’s desk for you to explore. This desk features objects tied to Hopper’s time in Richmond in 1938 and 1953.
In Hotel Room, a woman sits alone in the privacy of her room, contemplating a train timetable. Finally free from the burden of her suitcase and the hassle of travel, she has taken off her dress and fashionable bell-shaped hat. Perhaps travelling alone and planning the next leg of her journey, she represents the independent “New Woman”, a new clientele for hotels in the 1920s. As Mrs. R. A. Green, the Manager of a Woman’s hotel in Los Angeles, wrote in Hotel Management in December of 1924. “I liked the thought of the Woman’s Hotel because it was a specialty, and I wanted to prove that it would be possible for transient women guests to really feel at home…. Railroad officials tell us that one-fourth of the traveling at the present time is done by women and our records show that the majority of these women are traveling alone. Our plan of placing a suite of several bed rooms and one bath at the disposal of such women is an attractive proposition, for it enables them to secure comfort, privacy and cleanliness at a minimum price…. I am very enthusiastic about the future of women’s hotels throughout the Country, for I believe that there is an opening in practically every large city for just this type of a ‘home hotel’ where transient guests — either women alone or with their families — can be sheltered.”
In Apartment Houses, painted in 1923, Hopper presents a voyeur’s perspective into an apartment, where a woman dressed as a housekeeper can be seen making a bed. While the title, Apartment Houses, might not suggest a hotel, this space likely belongs to a category of rental spaces known as apartment hotels. This type of housing was a popular alternative to traditional apartments, as it offered many hotel-style amenities for busy, working people with more reasonable prices than a luxury apartment. These apartments appealed to hotel owners, who could use this model to maintain reliable rental rates through slow tourist seasons. These apartments rarely came equipped with kitchens, making residents frequent patrons of the hotel restaurant.
Hotel Management magazine often advised readers to consider converting units in their hotels into apartment suites, as in a September, 1924 article: “The tendency toward living permanently in hotels has become very marked in recent years because of the increasingly difficult problems of housekeeping. In most cases it is an easy matter for the hotel manager to convert several groups of corner rooms into comfortable apartment suites.” An article in October of that year encouraged apartment hotel proprietors to “Explain that we give complete hotel service, including maids to make the rooms up, dusting, and such other service as is customary in first class hotels; that we give a general cleaning every two months, window washing every two weeks, and vacuum service every ten days….It is also advisable to point out our main floor facilities, such as the food shop, dining room, lounges and barber shop.” Of course, these services were administered in the absence of residents, contributing to a magical transformation of leaving one’s room and returning to find the bed made and the space tidied. Hopper’s Apartment Houses pulls back the curtain on the invisibility of laborers responsible for keeping things spick-and-span by framing a working-class woman as she freshens the linens on the bed. The viewer is left to assume that she will be gone before the space is re-inhabited, leaving no mess behind.
Prior to the predominance of the automobile in the United States in the early 20th century, hotels existed primarily in town centers and along railroad lines. With the car came an expansion of nationwide infrastructure. Interstate systems now cut through parts of the country that were previously remote, increasing the need for overnight accommodations for this new method of cross-country travel. Responding to need, many family homes began converting single bedrooms into short-term spaces available for overnight rental. Tourist homes were identified by simple yard signs, which were sometimes difficult to spot as the sun began to set. For this reason, Hopper was uneasy when it came to finding places to stay without reservations. At times he seemed frustrated by the need to settle in early rather than continuing to drive at dusk. Jo, however, welcomed these tourist homes as an opportunity for good conversation. Far more social than her husband, she relished these conversations with tourist homeowners, a role largely filled by women. She wrote in her diaries about these stays frequently, as she did on July 19, 1951:
“Last night stayed at a charming tourist house in Van Wert, Ohio, only $3 beautiful bathroom in pale colors, rugs, white plastic curtains and windows, shower, dressing table, neon lighting, and a railroad running parallel with rear of house. We liked it, so exciting to get glimpses of passing trains… The place called Lois Tourist house. She seemed plenty harried in very keyed up state. Said she’d recently had a divorce…. He hadn’t married the other woman either. He’d lost his job. She had the house, it had been here before anyway…She has a factory job and tries to keep the house clean.”
Jo Hopper devoted dozens of diary entries to poetic and detailed descriptions of the motels that she and Edward encountered on their 1952 road trip to the Southwest and Mexico. The ease of finding motels meant that they could drive later into the night, as well-lit billboards announced vacancies miles down the road. Jo marveled that such “luxurious” and “de-lux” accommodations could be secured along the highway for such a modest rate — between 5 and 7 dollars (about $50-65 today).
On the second day of their road trip through the south and southwestern states on route to Oaxaca, Mexico, Jo noted the abundance of motels along Route 301:
December 8, 1952: We have been passing a lot of sumptuous motels. There must be much wealth beyond the Chesapeake to build and maintain such splendor, always admirably restrained up to the minute construction. Hoar frost on the ground, lovely silvery effect over green and rust. Several motels stretched straight out like a tense caterpillar, head with office facing road and body at perpendicular to it. Cars meant to stay outside windows of rooms, one after the other like vertebrae.”
Later, as they checked into motels, Jo recorded the color palette, design, and amenities provided in each motel:
December 10: Beautiful, beautiful motor court, the John Milledge at Milledgeville, Georgia. We got there late trying to use all the daylight to make up mileage – 913 from New York City. Each unit had 2 double beds ours with Veronese green coverlets, bathtub and shower, fine goose neck lamps, etc. Grander, much more than necessary, but we [were] lucky to find anything riding about in the dark…
December 12, 1952: “It was such a beautiful room last night at the Broadmoor Court, Monroe, Louisiana. $5. Done by a decorator with fine color sense with facilities to get you just the right things … certainly the work of professional decorators, all these deluxe courts…. Here the prevailing color grey green, pale and tawny, tan pale (wooly floor covering) ash colored bed, chairs, one covered pale tan leather, other greeny grey material, pattern, lamps, modernist design, broad low bed covered grey green … and when I found a flat wooly cadmium scarlet blanket on shelf in wardrobe, and threw it on the bed I let out a squeal of delight. The walls were dark green, dark but dull, muted like a mat on a watercolor, pushed the walls back for depth. Trim dead white, white lamp shades, curtains, large squares of red and white, heavy material, better than it sounds.”
In this gallery, the museum has recreated the painting Western Motel as a livable space, with designers painstakingly selecting colors, lighting, and furnishings to match Hopper’s depiction.
In 1913, when Edward Hopper moved into his studio apartment on the top floor of a row house on Washington Square North in Greenwich Village, New York, the neighborhood was home to dozens of long and short term residential hotels and bohemian boarding houses. By the 1940s, the character of the area was changing, as hotels were demolished or annexed to make way for New York University’s growing campus throughout the Village. In her diary, Jo lamented the disappearance of the hotels, some of which were the residences or popular hangouts for local artist-friends. She also mentioned the demolition of the Row of Genius, a block of houses famous as the home to writers and poets, such as Willa Cather, John dos Passos, Stephen Crane and O. Henry.
Sat. February 5, 1949 “Our friend on the Times is convinced that N.Y.U. means to gobble up the whole tract and that’s why the hotels Brevoort and Lafayette are closing out. Mr. Moore told me things about the selling of the Hotel Judson. This had been built out of some millions collected as memorial for Rev Judson, the missionary to Burma, built by the Baptists. The hotel part was meant to supply the upkeep for the church. Some big figure of the Baptist world, also President of the Manhattan Trust Company, or National City Bank or some such, had sold the hotel part to N.Y.U. when John Sloan was thrown out. And what right did he have to do that! This incident quoted only to show what crooks can invest the folds of the righteous. Also now N.Y.U. can’t build Law Centre on the empty site of the Row of Genius – now only an enclosed empty lot!!!
A few weeks later, Jo described the struggle with the University with Biblical metaphors: “We need our David and his sling – and I’m quite convinced he’ll come. The Battle of Washington Sq. is a holy war. Michael will come, St. Patrick to clean out his generation of vipers and St. George to slay the dragon.”
In this 1960 photograph by Arnold Newman, we see Edward posed in front of his and Jo’s South Truro cottage, perched on a hill and designed to his specification with an enormous north-facing window. In the distance, the tiny figure of Jo exiting the house. Jo started visiting Cape Cod as early as 1906, but Edward’s first trip was during the summer of 1930, when the couple rented a farm house on the property of the South Truro’s postmaster general. For the first time they had the privacy of a rented detached cottage, rather than a tourist home. She described this house to a friend, referring to Edward as E: “It’s a small cottage on the side of a hill in a wonderful land of bare green sandy hills – so open to the sky and wind-blown and wild…. This is the first time we’ve ever had a little house all to ourselves and we’re having a great joy of it. It’s just a little summer cottage, as primitive as the land it’s on. We have our own pump, that works and easily, and a brand new 3 burner oil stove and big oven… There is no laundry anywhere around but we have a big nickel kettle and the pump and the stove and tubs and I wash & E rinses and wrings out the sheets and things looked so white blowing in the wind, we got quite excited over it… ”
Edward was also pleased by the new surroundings, writing to his friend, the artist Clarence Chatterton: “We like it very much here at South Truro and have taken a cottage for the summer. Fine big hills of sand, a desert on a small scale with fine dune formations, a very open almost treeless country – I think you would like it. I have one canvas as am starting another and have a few watercolors.”
June 3, 1951:
“Along [the] east bank of the Mississippi [outside Natchez] Stopped at a Standard Oil Station, was shown most delux comfort station maintained for negro customers. Pride of the country side.”
As a result of their many road trips, Edward and Jo Hopper attained a degree of confidence moving through the United States, stopping at countless roadside tourist homes and motels for overnight stays. As white Americans, they could assume that if an establishment had a vacancy, they would be granted shelter. However, for black Americans during racial segregation, car travel could be precarious and dangerous; it was critical to know which locations were welcoming. The comforting glowing light of Derrick Adams’s sculpture Beacon 3 references the safe harbor of hotels and motels listed in The Negro Motorist Green Book series, published by Victor Hugo Green from 1936 through 1967. During this period, these hotels offered not just accommodations, but sanctuary from the stress and anxiety of moving through the segregated South for African American travelers.
As Victor Green wrote in the introduction of the book’s 1954 edition, “The white traveler for years has had no difficulty in getting accommodations, but with the Negro, it has been different. He, before the advent of Negro Travel Guides, has had to depend on word of mouth and then sometimes accommodations weren’t available. But now a days things are different- he has his own travel guide that he can depend on for all the information that he wants and with a selection. Hence these guides have made travelling more popular and without running into embarrassing situations.”
“The open book is Plato, reread too late.” [Jo’s voice]
Edward Hopper kept ledger books with copious notes on most of his paintings and several of his watercolors. For each entry, Edward drew a small sketch of the work, with Jo recording information regarding subject matter, media and materials, dimensions, color and tone, and sales history. Selected passages contain short quips suggesting possible storylines for the images. On a few occasions, and as in the entry for Excursion into Philosophy citing Plato, these lines refer to authors and other intellectuals.
Jo’s suggestion of only belatedly coming back to Plato’s writing—as if one can no longer benefit from his insights—matches somewhat the man in the painting’s ambiguous, confused facial expression. Did Jo mention Plato as a pun on the painting’s title, which, after all, mentions “philosophy”? Perhaps Jo’s lines—and Edward’s narrative in Excursion into Philosophy—are intentionally vague?
Dec 18, 1952: Tues night E got me out of bed to come see a dazzling sight out our big picture window with Venetian shade. The tall tower of an oil refinery that sends up stream of smoke — beautiful Sulphur against cobalt sky by day but light against dark at night this tower sparkling as hung with blue diamond with ruby signals for airplanes. Then another tall upright — smoke stack – from Copper works — Most spectacular against night sky…
Many paintings by Hopper, including Morning Sun and Morning in a City, depict women gazing, from or near their beds, out of windows. We hear in this diary entry how important a view from a window was for Hopper in life–so impactful, he had to wake Jo so she might see the vista as well. Demonstrating Jo’s immensely descriptive, expository writing style, the keen attention to color and atmospheric effect in these lines evokes Jo’s own practice as a painter. We also find mention of the ubiquitous, mid-century modern picture window, which appears in several works in this exhibition. In this room, look closely at paintings and photographs by other artists such as Charles Demuth, Cindy Sherman, and Alfred Stieglitz, who also incorporate windows.
During World War Two, travel was restricted by gas rationing, so Edward and Jo Hopper decided to take a train to Mexico in the summer of 1943. Over the next decade, they would return five more times by car, taking extended road trips through the southeast or southwest United States along the way. They disliked the crowds and heat of Mexico City, but loved the northern cities of Saltillo and Monterrey, both surrounded by the Sierra Madres Mountains. While in Mexico, Hopper mostly painted watercolors from his hotel window or rooftop rather than from street level. From above, he could mix picturesque scenes of the mountains and church towers, with commercial signage geared towards the tourist industry. Jo wrote about the view from their favorite hotel in Saltillo, the Hotel Arizpe Sainz:
Thurs May 30, 1946 Glad to be here in this delightful little hotel, glad of our room up the 46 steps and glad of the grand roof we step out of our room right out and on to with grand view of towers, turrets, domes, from which rise the best looking tall crosse, and the expanse of pale flat roof tops. Such lovely powdery color everywhere.
“Come to the end of the posing for E. a saddening experience. Just like an Aiken – in its devastating effect. If he would make her a heavy slouchy creature and look like she drank – why must she have her hair down. Like she thought she was Esmerelda? I had strong misgivings about hair down and house robe. E says he doesn’t think it looks like me at all – but he just can’t paint the way I am, he hasn’t the skill. And that anyway it’s solid. Sure it’s solid – if that’s what any woman craves – solid and thick and old and bleary eyed and terrible creases – with luxurious curls down her back – down her back.”
Jo Hopper wrote this in February 1935, but her observation tells us much about the painter’s practice and influences. . Edward once called Thomas Eakins, who Jo mentions here, “our greatest American painter,” and Eakins is certainly an inspiration for several of the psychologically charged compositions on display. This diary entry also reminds us that Jo modeled for most of the women who appear in Hopper’s paintings. It is not clear which painting is described here, but Jo’s remarks about the woman’s posture, house robe, and hair could apply to, among other works, Hopper’s later painting, Hotel by a Railroad. Whatever the painting was, Jo was critical of Edward’s treatment of her “sturdy” build and disheveled hair, which evoked for Jo the character of Esmeralda from Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Jo once wrote about her and Edward’s time in the Weseman Motor Court in El Paso, “It’s beautiful to have stayed here…How nice to have been having things so nice and pleasant.” We hope you have enjoyed your stay here, with Edward Hopper and the American Hotel. As you leave the exhibition, consider how a painting is like a hotel. They both offer temporary experiences, they both serve multiple individuals. In what other ways is a painting like a hotel? Let us know your thoughts in the ledger book found in the lounge near the elevator. In this area, you can also explore three trips the Hoppers took, available on the interactive displays.
Music: Peach and Bare by The Coverlets