Edward Hopper was one of the most important observers of the American scene beginning in the 1920s. Although Hopper had been a student of Robert Henri [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Robert%20Earle%20Henri] in New York and was familiar with the busy urban realist scenes of the...
Edward Hopper was one of the most important observers of the American scene beginning in the 1920s. Although Hopper had been a student of Robert Henri [http://www.mfa.org/search/collections?artist=Robert%20Earle%20Henri] in New York and was familiar with the busy urban realist scenes of the Ashcan School of painters, he focused his own imagery on the alienation of modern life. He often portrayed solitary and isolated figures that seem to be aching with loneliness or multiple figures that do not interact. Hopper also recorded architectural scenes, both rural and urban, instilling each with a similar feeling of abandonment; he chronicled the ravages of the Depression by depicting forsaken farms and “For Sale” signs on suburban streets. In 1927 Hopper delivered a painting entitled Ex Lax—Drug Store to his dealer Frank K. M. Rehn in New York City. Peggy Rehn, the dealer’s wife, felt that the allusion to a laxative was indelicate, and Hopper was persuaded to change the second X to a C, which he did in watercolor. Shortly thereafter, however, John T. Spaulding, a Boston lawyer and collector who favored bold images, bought the painting for $1,500 and encouraged Hopper to restore the product name. Now known as Drug Store, the painting is one of Hopper’s early masterpieces. Many of the themes and devices seen in his later work are evident in this striking picture. In Drug Store Hopper utilized the brilliance of electric light, his love of architectural features, and his sense of drama to convey eerie nocturnal solitude. In many of his nighttime paintings, dazzling light streams from a window surrounded by darkness. Here the bright lights within the pharmacy, the light over the door, and the unseen street lamp combine to produce geometric designs on the pavement and to illuminate architectural elements. In this late-night scene of the then-ubiquitous corner drug store, Hopper’s New York City is deserted and ominously silent. No people stroll along the sidewalk. No cars crowd the street. The sense of danger lurking in the shadows negates the welcome of the brightly lit window. As he did in many of his urban paintings, Hopper chose to depict a street corner building—Silbers Pharmacy is seen from a slightly oblique angle. Hopper explores the repeating rectangles of curbing, building, storefront, and signs, and uses bold lettering to punctuate his formal design. The window of this independent drug store displays red and green apothecary bottles, like the running lights of ships in the dark. The patriotic colors of the red, white, and blue window decorations are a reminder that Hopper consistently identified himself with such quintessentially American subjects—the stores, diners, offices, and apartments frequented by ordinary citizens. However, the pride of patriotism is tempered here by the brazen advertisement of a well-known laxative. This text was adapted from Elliot Bostwick Davis et al., American Painting [http://www.mfashop.com/9020398034.html], MFA Highlights (Boston: MFA Publications, 2003).
Lower right: EDWARD HOPPER
1927, the artist; before 1933, sold by the artist to John T. Spaulding, Boston, through the Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery, N. Y.; 1948, bequest of John T. Spaulding to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 3, 1948)
Bequest of John T. Spaulding