Checking Twitter back in March, Michael Tisserand noticed a cat picture that somehow reminded him of the lighting in an Edward Hopper painting. He realised that was how he was feeling as well, so the writer, who lives in New Orleans, tweeted, “we are all edward hopper paintings now,” along with four Hopper renderings of solitary figures. “Edward Hopper is one of those artists whose vision [of us] just becomes part of the way we view ourselves,” Tisserand told me.
His tweet has since generated nearly 70,000 retweets and more than 220,000 likes. It’s among the many Hopper memes that have proliferated on social media. Another tweet showing a close-up of a Hopper painting of a woman sitting on a bed, staring out a window read, “We choose modern loneliness because we want to be free. But when the freedoms of modern life are removed, what’s left but loneliness?” Ethan Lasser, a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, declared on Twitter that Hopper “is the unexpected poet of our moment.”
But while some Hopper experts appreciate the wave of interest in the American painter, who died in 1967, they say it’s a mistake to brand him as a patron saint of loneliness and social isolation. “He didn’t feel a sort of social stigma, or that just because you are with yourself that you’re not entirely content,” says Sarah Kelly Oehler, chair and curator of American art at the Art Institute of Chicago. “I think that there’s some misrepresentation there.”
Her museum is home to Nighthawks, which OverstockArt.com recently depicted with the label: “Hopper, the master of social distancing,” to illustrate a blog post about the artist’s work. An iconic image of the 20th century, it sprang from another period of widespread anxiety; Hopper began painting it just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. In it, four people appear in a fluorescent-lit diner on an otherwise dark street corner. One patron’s back is turned to the viewer, while the other two, a man and woman, sit side-by-side at the counter; a single worker is behind the bar.