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ART : SEEDS OF MELANCHOLY : A Lesser-Known Edward Hopper Is Revealed in Newport

January 24, 1991|CATHY CURTIS | Cathy Curtis covers art for The Times Orange County Edition.

Inquiring minds want to know: Is "Nighthawks"--the famous scene of anonymous denizens of an all-night cafe--among the 65 paintings in a recently opened survey of Edward Hopper's work at Newport Harbor Art Museum? Well, the answer is no, because "Nighthawks" is owned by the Chicago Art Institute, and the exhibit consists solely of works from the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The Whitney owns more of Hopper's art than any other institution, and the survey also includes 35 watercolors and 50 prints and drawings. Most of the drawings are figure studies and studies for paintings like "Morning Sun" and "New York Movie"--neither of which is in the show, unfortunately, so viewers don't get to compare the sketch with the finished work.

Another strike against the exhibit is that most of the paintings are of dour New England buildings and breezy Cape Cod landscapes, rather than the images of lonely people in houses, offices and hotels that have come to be identified with the Hopper mystique.

Still, the show does help to fill in some lesser-known sides of the New York artist's career, with work dating from his student days to a few years before his death in 1967.

Born in 1882, Hopper studied with American painter Robert Henri, forward-thinking teacher of many important American painters. "Young Woman in a Studio," from around 1901--a painting of a pensive woman standing at the edge of a modeling platform--shows that the artist's characteristic air of melancholy can be found even in his earliest work.

Hopper's three trips to Paris during his 20s resulted in a batch of Impressionist-influenced landscapes and the peculiarly stagy painting from 1914 called "Soir Bleu." It offers a panorama of Parisian types--intellectual, whore, clown, military officer, bourgeoisie couple--sitting in cool silence in a cafe.

Hopper married Jo Nivison when he was 24, and many of the watercolor nude studies he did were of the rounded contours of her body. While he was beginning to render bodies and inanimate surfaces with a Puritan austerity in his paintings, he indulged his sensual side in these studies.

At 38, he finally got his first one-man show at the Whitney Studio Club in 1920, an "emerging artist" project instituted by museum founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. "Railroad Sunset," from 1929, is an example of his mature style: A long streak of track and landscape punctuated by a switching tower and a telephone pole speak of vast distances and solitary journeys.

Beginning in the 1930s, Hopper spent his summers in Cape Cod, an area he already knew well. "Cape Cod Sunset," from 1934--a painting of an aloof white frame house next to a dark grove of trees--reveal the coolly insular New England spirit without recourse to human subjects.

What

"Edward Hopper: Selections from the Permanent Collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art."

When

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, through March 17.

Where

Newport Harbor Art Museum, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach.

Whereabouts

Take Jamboree Road to Santa Barbara Drive, just north of the Coast Highway. San Clemente runs off Santa Barbara.

Wherewithal

General admission is $4.50 for this show only; $2 for seniors and students, $1 for children 6 to 17, free on Tuesdays for everyone.

Where to call

(714) 759-1122.

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