Edward Hopper’s “A Woman in the Sun”, is a breath of life into a stuffy existence. It is about enjoying the subtleties life offers in those moments that cannot be achieved through an artificial means. Hopper’s composition, content and color invite the viewer to a different dimension where things are simple and fresh, the air is pure.
“At first glance”, this is how I usually like to compare and contrast my view of an art work. I feel the transition from “at first glance” to spending time with a piece is like getting to know a stranger. There are certain properties that I notice right away but as I pry and spend time interacting there is a lot more than is seen on the surface.
The nude woman in this painting gives the audience a sense of voyuerism, she seems like a seductress. Is she enjoying a cigarette after a sexual encounter? Am I the viewer in the same room? I don’t think the answers to these questions are yes.
As I spend more time with the painting I come to realize there is a more lonesome innocent aspect to this painting. Perhaps She has finished a bath and is simply enjoying some warm sunlight on her naked skin. I can only speculate on the intentions of the artist. I look past her and notice a bare and simple room, the sunlight really has an illuminating quality contrasted against the rest of the composition that demands attention but is pacified through the presence of the woman. Through the far window the rolling hills take me to a rural setting with muted tones. I get the feeling of a calm quiet presence.
Although the yellow sunlight rakes across the canvas, I feel the focus is still the figure. Through research I discovered that the model in this scene is Hopper’s wife, she was 76 yet he painted her not as he saw her but instead from an idealized perspective. I feel like that insight really reveals a lot about this painting and about the artist. It pushes the painting further away from realism and into a dream as if we are recalling a memory with Hopper.
I feel that the essence of a good painting is providing enough information to guide a viewer to a certain moment and leave little enough detail to allow the audience to become lost in that moment and form their own narrative. In that sense the painting becomes reflective. If this painting was a stranger it would become a friend that I would like to continue visiting, I see a lot of myself in this painting. (Obviously I’m in the photo but that’s meant for scale.)