It takes a prestigious exhibition to make the French miss their leisurely lunch break. The Edward Hopper exhibition at Le Grand Palais in Paris attracted throngs of hardcore fans when it opened to the public on October 10, 2012. Le Grand Palais is an haute-gamme gallery located in the 8th district of Paris near the Champs-Élysées with display halls that are vaulted and angled like veritable culture caves.Walking up the gilded staircases, at least three different languages were being spoken amongst the crowds gathered in the towering arched doorway.
Two security checks later, we entered the first room, whose high ceilings give the impression of an endless treasure trove. Excited whispers scurried past my ears like mice on a cheese-hunt. These were die-hard art lovers who lied to their bosses to come see an expo an hour after it opened with their Cartes Sesames, which grant them full access and line-cutting privileges to the most popular museums in Paris. The Louboutin heels and glistening watch bands say it all : we were made to critique. And critique they do.
Born in Nyack, New York, Edward Hopper struggled for recognition before leaving to expand his perspective in Paris. When there, he associated with the likes of Charles Burchfield, Alfred Stieglitz, and Reginald Marsh. The progression in his style is obvious; Hopper’s painting got better and bigger after he studied in the City of Lights. Eerie lighting gives off a Tim Burton-esque vibe that only intensifies in grim pieces like ‘Night Hawks” and “Soir Bleu”.
As one of the most famous realist painters of the 20th century, Hopper takes unexpected scenes from everyday life and turns them into masterpieces. In “Gas”, a row of petrol pumps near the highway are showcased in all their ordinary splendor.
Oil painting was Hopper’s medium of choice, but Le Grand Palais reserved a room just for his etchings. Regardless of where it was completed, his work is so relatable that it serves as a bridge between American and French culture.
Comprising over 100 pieces, Hopper’s oeuvre evokes a plethora of moods by illustrating the tension between tradition and modernity, cities and nature, men and women. His work is immensely appreciated by people of various backgrounds in French culture. A woman I spoke to at the museum said : “I think Hopper has a rare talent. He can make people marvel over the greatness of a house standing in a prairie, or gas pumps on the side of the road.” For the French, Hopper’s work is an enlarged exoticism of American culture, with just the right touch of nostalgia to reach beyond the retinas of Old World residents.