The work in The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock is from the British Museum's own holdings. One of the four Edward Hopper etchings is Evening Wind. A naked girl kneeling on a bed looks out through an open window. Curtains billow inwards. Her head, turned from you, is hidden by long hair which is pushed about by the wind. In East Side Interior another young woman sits at a sewing machine by another open window. Night on the El Train shows a couple at the end of an empty carriage. She is twisted away from you, towards her companion and the window behind them. He has a straw boater on his knee. The etchings were done when Hopper was still making a living as an illustrator of magazine stories and advertisements. He loathed the job, but his etchings, like his illustrations, drop you into stories. You can hardly see the faces but these are nonetheless characters. The rooms and the carriage (established by heavy, hatched shadows), as much as the people, make you wonder what will happen next. Although the overt narrative proper to illustration will eventually be replaced by more enigmatic evocations of place, Hopper would go on making you wonder what has happened - or will happen. They are among the best prints made in the 20th century.
LRB 8 May 2008 | PDF Download