Ground Swell Hopper Analysis Essay

In a vast expanse of open sea, a catboat heels gently to starboard as it navigates a course that has brought it close to a bell buoy. Under feathery cirrus clouds and a brilliant blue sky, the boat’s three passengers and pilot gaze at, and presumably listen to, the buoy’s bell, which tilts toward them as it crests one of a sequence of rolling waves. Although Edward Hopper is renowned for lonely urban scenes that have led his work to be understood as emblematic of the mood of the modern city and the isolation of its inhabitants, he was also a dedicated painter of nautical subjects.

Born in Nyack, New York, Hopper spent his formative years sketching the maritime industry of this bustling shipbuilding port on the Hudson River. From 1930 onward, Hopper and his wife, Josephine “Jo” Nivison, whom he had met in art school, spent summers painting in Truro, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. In 1934 they built a cottage in South Truro; Ground Swell was painted in the adjacent studio. Jo conveyed the anticipation surrounding Hopper’s completion of Ground Swell in a letter to his sister:

Ed. is doing a fine large canvas in studio—sail boat, boys nude to the waist, bodies all tanned, lots of sea and sky. It ought to be a beauty. Frank Rehn [Hopper’s dealer] will be delighted. Everyone has wanted Ed to do sail boats. He has only 2 or 3 weeks to finish it—and it will need some fine weather with rolling seas to go look at. Dense fog today but scarcely any rain here either.

Ground Swell numbers among a group of similar seafaring subjects Hopper executed during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Along with paintings such as The Long Leg  and The “Martha McKeen” of Wellfleet, Ground Swell has come to be seen as exemplary of the artist’s recurring theme of escape. It is a motif familiar from better-known paintings like New York Movie  and Eleven A.M.  that take as their focus liminal spaces: thresholds, windows, railroads, and so forth. If Hopper’s iconic Nighthawks  conveys the anxiety of the urban experience through the acidic hue and high contrast of its artificial illumination, Ground Swell’s cool palette and balanced, rhythmic composition would seem to illustrate the peaceful solace the artist, a notorious recluse, sought in his idyllic coastal retreat.

Ground Swell’s subject is not uncommon in American art. It recalls, for example, Starting Out after Rail  and , the sparkling vibrancy of which has been interpreted as corresponding to the nation’s incipient optimism a decade after the Civil War. Whereas Homer’s sailors gaze intently at a clear horizon connoting future promise, Hopper’s are transfixed by the bell buoy, which strikes a dark note, literally and figuratively, in the otherwise sunny scene.

The function of a bell buoy is to issue auditory warning of submerged dangers or channel boundaries. Hopper’s bell clangs in response to the painting’s titular ground swell, a heavy rolling of the sea caused by a distant storm or seismic disturbance. Unseen trouble may lurk beneath the surface or beyond the horizon of Hopper’s otherwise serene painting. The visual rhyming of the ocean swells and the cirrus clouds in the upper register might reinforce such a portentous interpretation. Cirrus clouds are often harbingers of approaching weather, forming at the outer edges of hurricanes and thunderstorms. Indeed, a hurricane had devastated much of the northeast coast in late August 1938, one year before Hopper completed Ground Swell. The accuracy and specificity of Hopper’s sky indicate, if nothing else, that it is one the artist had seen, rather than one born of imagination or synthesis          .

Alexander Nemerov has noted that while Hopper worked on Ground Swell, from August to September 15, 1939, news of the eruption of World War II was broadcast on American radios. As radio waves brought news of distant conflict to US shores, the bell buoy in Ground Swell sonically registers the reverberations of some unspecified distant turmoil. Hopper was famously resistant to explaining the meaning of his paintings, but he broached, obliquely, the relation between the war and his work in a 1940 letter to his friend, the artist Guy Pène du Bois. Explaining that Jo had wept in a grocery store when she learned of the fall of Paris, Hopper resignedly concluded: “Painting seems to be a good enough refuge from all this, if one can get one’s dispersed mind together long enough to concentrate upon it.” The artist’s canvas, like the catboat’s white canvas sail, seemingly offered a means of escape.

The ramifications of the war were certainly felt in the North American art world. The minutes of an April 1943 meeting of the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s board of trustees, for instance, testify to a debate regarding the suitability of holding the Eighteenth Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Paintings, “in view of the existing war situation.” The exhibition was mounted and later deemed “unusually successful.” Hopper was a juror and Ground Swell was included in the biennial, from which it was acquired by the Corcoran.

Adam Greenhalgh

September 29, 2016

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The following is a list of works by American painter Edward Hopper.

Painter and Modeloil on canvas1902–1904Whitney Museum of American Art[1]
Bridge in Parisoil on canvas1906Whitney Museum of American Art[2]
Le Pont des Artsoil on canvas1907Whitney Museum of American Art[3]
Après-midi de juinoil on canvas1907Whitney Museum of American Art[4]
Les lavoirs à Pont Royaloil on canvas1907Whitney Museum of American Art[5]
Louvre and Boat Landingoil on canvas1907Whitney Museum of American Art[6]
The El Station1908Whitney Museum of American Art
Railroad Trainoil on canvas1908Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover MA61.6 cm × 73.66 cm (24 1/4 in. × 29 in.)[7]
Summer Interioroil on canvas1909Whitney Museum of American Art
The Louvre in a
oil on canvas1909Whitney Museum of American Art[8]
Le Pont Royaloil on canvas1909Whitney Museum of American Art


Le Quai des Grands Augustinsoil on canvas1909Whitney Museum of American Art[10][permanent dead link]
Le pavillon de Floreoil on canvas1909Whitney Museum of American Art[11]
The Wine Shopoil on canvas1909Whitney Museum of American Art
Sailingoil on canvas1911Carnegie Museum of Art61 cm × 73.7 cm (24 in. × 29 in.)[12]
American Villageoil on canvas1912Whitney Museum of American Art
Squam Lightoil on canvas1912[13]
Queensborough Bridgeoil on canvas1913Whitney Museum of American Art[14]
Soir bleuoil on canvas1914Whitney Museum of American Art91.8 cm × 182.7 cm (36 1/8 in. × 71 15/16 in.)
Road in Maineoil on canvas1914Whitney Museum of American Art
Blackhead, Monheganoil on canvas1916–1919Whitney Museum of American Art[15]
Night on the El Trainetching1918Private Collection
Stairwaysoil on canvas1919Whitney Museum of American Art


The El Stationetching1919–1923Whitney Museum of American Art[17]
American Landscapeetching1920Philadelphia Museum of Art[18]
House Topsetching1921Whitney Museum of American Art[19]
Night Shadowsetching1921Whitney Museum of American Art & Metropolitan Museum of Art17.4 cm × 20.8 cm (6 7/8 in. × 8 3/16 in.)[20]
Girl at Sewing Machineoil on canvas1921Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum48 cm × 46 cm (19 in. × 18 in.)
Evening Windetching1921Whitney Museum of American Art & Metropolitan Museum of Art17.6 cm × 21 cm (6 15/16 in. × 8 1/4 in.)[21]
New York Interioroil on canvasc. 1921Whitney Museum of American Art61.8 cm × 74.6 cm (24 5/16 in. × 29 3/8 in.)[22]
East Side Interioretching1922
The Cat Boatetching1922Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover MA19.69 cm × 24.77 cm (7 3/4 in. × 9 3/4 in.)[23]
New York Restaurantoil on canvasc. 1922Muskegon Art Museum, Michigan[24]
Railroad Crossingoil on canvas1922–1923Whitney Museum of American Art[25]
Apartment Housesoil on canvas1923Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts[1]24 in. × 28 15/16 in.[26]
Drawing for "Aux Fortifications"Charcoal, white chalk, and graphite on bristol board1923Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts13 13/16 in. × 18 7/16 in.[27]
The Mansard Roofwatercolor on paper1923Brooklyn Museum13 3/4 in. × 19 inches[28]
The Locomotiveetching1923Whitney Museum of American Art[29]
The Lonely Houseetching1923[30]
Moonlight Interioroil on canvas1923[31]
House by the Railroadoil on canvas1925Museum of Modern Art
Ranch House, Santa Fewatercolour1925Williams College Museum of Art[32]
Self-Portraitoil on canvas1925–1930Whitney Museum of American Art64.5 cm × 51.8 cm (25 3/8 in. × 20 3/8 in.)[33]
Sundayoil on canvas1926Phillips Collection
Washington, D.C.
Universalist Churchwatercolor over graphite on cream wove paper1926Princeton University Art Museum35.6 cm × 50.8 cm (14 in. × 20 in.)
Drug Storeoil on canvas1927Museum of Fine Arts, Boston[35]
Lighthouse Hill1927Dallas Museum of Art[36]
Captain Upton's Houseoil on canvas1927private collection[37]
Coast Guard Stationoil on canvas1927Montclair Art Museum73.7 cm × 109.2 cm (29 in. × 43 in.)[38]
Coast Guard Station, Two Lights, Mainewatercolor, gouache & charcoal on paper1927Metropolitan Museum of Art35.2 cm × 50.5 cm (13 7/8 in. × 19 7/8 in.)[39]
Light at Two Lightswatercolor & graphite pencil on paper1927Whitney Museum of American Art35.4 cm × 50.8 cm (13 15/16 in. × 20 in.)[40]
Automatoil on canvas1927Des Moines Art Center71.4 cm × 91.4 cm (28 in. × 36 in.)
Two on the Aisleoil on canvas1927Toledo Museum of Art102.2 cm × 122.6 cm[41]
The Cityoil on canvas1927University of Arizona Museum of Art[42]
Night Windowsoil on canvas1928Museum of Modern Art[43]
Manhattan Bridge Loopoil on canvas1928Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover MA88.9 cm × 152.4 cm (35 in. × 60 in.)[44]
From Williamsburg Bridgeoil on canvas1928Metropolitan Museum of Art74.6 cm × 111.1 cm (29 3/8 in. × 43 3/4 in.)[45]
Blackwell's Islandoil on canvas1928Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art87.6 cm × 151.3 cm (34.5 in. × 59.5 in.)[46]
Freight Cars, Gloucesteroil on canvas1928Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover MA73.66 cm × 101.92 cm (29 in. × 40 1/8 in.)[47]
Railroad Sunsetoil on canvas1929Whitney Museum of American Art74.5 cm × 122.2 cm (29 5/16 in. × 48 1/8 in.)[48]
The Lighthouse at Two Lightsoil on canvas1929Metropolitan Museum of Art74.9 cm × 109.9 cm (29 1/2 in. × 43 1/4 in.)[49]
Chop Sueyoil on canvas1929Barney A. Ebsworth Collection81.3 cm × 96.5 cm (32 in. × 38 in.)[50]
Early Sunday Morningoil on canvas1930Whitney Museum of American Art89.4 cm × 153 cm (35.2 in. × 60.3 in.)[51]
Tables for Ladiesoil on canvas1930Metropolitan Museum of Art122.6 cm × 153 cm (48 1/4 in. × 60 1/4 in.)[52]
Apartment Houses, East River1930Whitney Museum of American Art[53]
Corn Hill
(Truro, Cape Cod)
oil on canvas1930McNay Art Institute,
San Antonio
Hills, South Trurooil on canvas1930Cleveland Museum of Art69.5 cm × 109.5 cm[55][permanent dead link]
House in Provincetown
watercolor1930University of Oklahoma Museum of Art[56]
Cobb's Barns, South Truro1930–1933Whitney Museum of American Art


New York, New Haven
and Hartford
1931Indianapolis Museum of Art[58]
Hotel Roomoil on canvas1931Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum[59]
Barber Shopoil on canvas1931Neuberger Museum of Art60 in. × 78 in.[60]
Roofs of the Cobb Barnwatercolor1931Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art19.9375 in. × 27.875 in.[61]
Dauphinée House1932ACA Galleries[62]
Room in New Yorkoil on canvas1932Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery and Sculpture Garden, Lincoln NE73.66 cm × 93.028 cm (29 in. × 36 5/8 in.)[63]
Locust Treeswatercolor & graphite on wove paper1932Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover MA35.56 cm × 50.8 cm (14 in. × 20 in.)[64]
East Wind Over Weehawkenoil on canvas1934Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1952-2013)
private collection
House at Duskoil on canvas1935Virginia Museum of Fine Arts[65]
The Long Leg1935The Huntington Library Collection[66]
Macomb's Dam Bridge1935Brooklyn Museum[67]
The Circle Theateroil on canvas1936Private collection[68]
Jo Painting1936Whitney Museum of American Art[69]
Cape Cod Afternoon1936Museum of Art,
Carnegie Institute
The Sheridan Theateroil on canvas1937Newark Museum[71]
White River at Sharon1937National Museum of American Art[72]
Mouth of Pamet River—Fall Tide1937Collection of Thelma Z. and Melvin Lenkin[73]
Compartment C,
Car 293
oil on canvas1938IBM Corporation Collection[74]
Bridle Pathoil on canvas193959.4 cm × 107 cm (23.375 in. × 42.125 in.)[75]
New York Movieoil on canvas1939Museum of Modern Art[76]
Cape Cod Eveningoil on canvas1939National Gallery of Art,
Washington, D.C.
Ground Swell1939Corcoran Gallery of Artboat, sea, swell,
woman, men
Gasoil on canvas1940Museum of Modern Art66.7 cm × 102.2 cm (26 1/4 in. × 40 1/4 in.)[79]
Office at Nightoil on canvas1940Walker Art Center (Minneapolis)[80]
The Lee Shoreoil on canvas1941Private collection[81]
Nighthawksoil on canvas1942Art Institute of Chicago84.1 cm × 152.4 cm (33 1⁄8 in. × 60 in.)
Dawn in Pennsylvaniaoil on canvasTerra Foundation for American Art, Chicago[82][permanent dead link]
Hotel Lobbyoil on canvas1943Indianapolis Museum of Art81.9 cm × 103.5 cm (32 1⁄4 in. × 40 3⁄4 in.)
Summertimeoil on canvas1943Delaware Art Museum[83]
Saltillo Mansionwatercolor on paper1943Metropolitan Museum of Art54 cm × 68.9 cm (21 1/4 in. × 27 1/8 in.)[84]
Solitude1944Private collection81.3 cm × 127 cm[85]
Morning in a Cityoil on canvas1944Williams College Museum of Art112.5 cm × 152 cm (44 5/16 in. × 59 13/16 in.)[86]
Rooms for Touristsoil on canvas1945Yale University Art Gallery[87]
August in the Cityoil on canvas1945Norton Museum of Art
West Palm Beach
Jo in Wyoming1946Whitney Museum of American Art[89]
Approaching a Cityoil on canvas1946The Phillips Collection[90]
El Palacio1946Whitney Museum of American Art[91]
Summer Eveningoil on canvas1947Private collection[92]
Pennsylvania Coal Town1947Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown OH[93]
Seven AMoil on canvas1948Whitney Museum of American Art76.7 cm × 101.9 cm (30 3/16 in. × 40 1/8 in.)[94]
High Noonoil on canvas1949Dayton Art Institute[95]
Conference at Nightoil on canvas1949Wichita Art Museum[96]
Stairwayoil on canvas1949Whitney Museum of American Art[97]
Cape Cod Morningoil on canvas1950Smithsonian American Art Museum86.7 cm × 102.3 cm (34 1/8 in. × 40 1/4 in.)[98]
Portrait of Orleansoil on canvas1950De Young Museum, San Francisco[99]
Rooms by the Seaoil on canvas1951Yale University Art Gallery74.3 cm × 101.6 cm (29 1/4 in. × 40 in.)[100]
First Row Orchestraoil on canvas1951Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden79 cm × 101.9 cm (31 1/8 in. × 40 1/8 in.)[101]
Morning Sunoil on canvas1952Columbus Museum of Art[102]
Hotel by a Railroadoil on canvas1952Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden[103]
Sea Watchers1952Private collection[104][permanent dead link]
Office in a Small Cityoil on canvas1953Metropolitan Museum of Art71 cm × 102 cm (28 in. × 40 in.)[105]
City Sunlightoil on canvas1954Hirshhorn Museum[106]
South Carolina Morningoil on canvas1955Whitney Museum of American Art[107]
Hotel Windowoil on canvas1956The Forbes Magazine Collection[108]
Four Lane Roadoil on canvas1956Private collection[109]
Sunlight on Brownstonesoil on canvas1956Brooklyn Museum[110]
Western Moteloil on canvas1957Yale University Art Gallery77.8 cm × 128.3 cm (30 1/4 in. × 50 1/8 in.)[111]
Sunlight in a Cafeteriaoil on canvas1958Yale University Art Gallery102.1 cm × 152.7 cm (40 3/16 in. × 60 1/8 in.)[112]
Excursion into Philosophyoil on canvas1959Private collection[113]
Second Story Sunlightoil on canvas1960Whitney Museum of American Art102.1 cm × 127.3 cm (40 3/16 in. × 50 1/8 in.)[114]
People in the Sunoil on canvas1960Smithsonian American Art Museum
Washington, D.C.
102.6 cm × 153.4 cm (40 3/8 in. × 60 3/8 in.)[115]
A Woman in the Sunoil on canvas1961Whitney Museum of American Art101.9 cm × 155.6 cm (40 1/8 in. × 61 1/4 in.)[116]
New York Officeoil on canvas1962Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts[117]
Intermissionoil on canvas1963San Francisco Museum of Modern Art101.6 cm × 152.4 cm (40 in. × 60 in.)[118]
Sun in an Empty Roomoil on canvas1963Private collection[119]
Chair Caroil on canvas1965Private collection[2][120]
Two Comediansoil on canvas1965Private collection73.7 cm × 101.6 cm[121]


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