WBUR: How Cape Ann, a lost cat and a meet-cute catalyzed artist Edward Hopper's career

July 21, 2023

There's a good chance you've seen Edward Hopper's quietly dramatic landscapes and scenes of ordinary life. "Nighthawks," his painting of a luminescent, late-night diner is iconic. But it took time for the now legendary 20th-century artist to find his visual voice. A new exhibition at the Cape Ann Museum, "Edward Hopper & Cape Ann: Illuminating an American Landscape," transports visitors back to a pivotal summer, 100 years ago, when Hopper met the woman who catalyzed his creativity and his career.

Curator Elliot Bostwick Davis unfolded the tale as dozens of canvases, drawings and prints were being installed in the museum's gallery. In the early 1900s, New York artists flocked to Gloucester's coast hoping to capture its picturesque geography, seaswept structures and coveted clarity of light.

It was 1923 when the then little-known Edward Hopper returned to the Massachusetts coast by train. At 41 years old, he was hungry for recognition and felt rather desperate. “He's only sold one painting over a decade earlier,” Davis said. “He knows he's really gotta make or break it. He's been persevering, but he hasn't managed to break through.”

Another artist was also in town with her brushes. Forty-year-old Josephine Nivison had crossed paths with Hopper on previous New England painting trips. While they shared the same influential teacher, Robert Henri, the two artists studied apart in classes separated by gender. But they finally got to “meet cute” formally, thanks to Nivison's feline traveling companion.

Turns out Nivison's suggestion was pivotal. Now a trove of the duo's watercolors are among 66 works in the new exhibition, “Edward Hopper & Cape Anne: Illuminating an American Landscape.” 

How Cape Ann, a lost cat and a meet-cute catalyzed artist Edward Hopper's career | WBUR News 

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