Edward Hopper is a painter I discovered when I moved to the United States. His paintings are full of lonely scenes, even when there are people together, and somehow your imagination always fills in the story.
Ursula, a friend of Edward Hopper’s sister, told us roughly how to find the “house by the railroad” in Haverstraw, NY, but it wasn’t easy (below I’ll tell you how we met Ursula).
Is Artistic License The Same As Lying?
Edward Hopper didn’t paint the house as he saw it, we found out.
- Above, it looks like the house is on the level of the tracks.
- He cut off two bedrooms and removed part of the porch and a few windows.
- The NYC Museum of Modern Art says Hopper added deep afternoon shadows, but on the late afternoon we were there, the sun was on the other side of the house so he added a lot of his own to the painting.
- The NYC MoMA says he isolated this 1860 house and made it look difficult to access because of the train tracks, his way of showing how modernization was isolating us.
I took some liberties with my photo, too. Below you can see how it really looks from the spot that Hopper painted it.
- The house in my edited photo was taken from the corner of the property with a wide angle lens for my smart phone ( momentlens). I wanted the same exact angle as this photo just above. This eliminated the houses next door so I could isolate the house like Edward Hopper did.
- I added the house to this photo just above using the Enlight phone app. The photo already had a slight red shade so I made that a little deeper.
- I deepened the shadows just like Hopper did and also isolated the house even more by darkening the house behind it.
- The sun in my Instagram post is real.
I love how Hopper interpreted the house instead of just painting what he saw. He had a vision of what he wanted to convey. That’s what makes the painting special so I wanted my photo to look as much as possible like the house Hopper imagined.
Film director Alfred Hitchcock was also impressed by Hooper’s “House by the railroad” and modeled the Bates Motel in Psycho after this house. Hitchcock made his own interpretations on the house, adding the long stairs and changing the train tracks for a highway, which isolated Norman Bates in the movie.
Stepping Into History
We parked the car behind the house and I immediately walked up to the porch. As we were taking a few photos, out of nowhere a man’s voice asked, “So you’re Hopper fans?”
This house is large and has several apartments. One of the renters was just coming home. He invited us in and told us about his experiences living in this house.
Then he said he would introduce us to the owners and knocked on their door! Edwin and Lori Castillo have lived here for 40 years. Lori invited us into her beautifully renovated apartment on the second floor with a spiral staircase to the third floor.
Lori told us that the daughter of the original owner actually saw Edward Hopper from the window, sitting by the railroad station, painting away! Lori is very proud of her house’s fame and has a collection of articles written about it. She loves when people come to visit because she gets to share their passion about the house.
How Did We Meet Ursula?
The day began with no plans, just a drive to escape the city on a hot day. As we were approaching Nyack, NY, we saw a sign for the Edward Hopper museum just five minutes away. The museum has very little. All of the artist’s paintings are in museums or in private collections, but here you get a glimpse into his life.
His bedroom had a view of the Hudson River and the morning sun came right through the windows. When Hopper painted “House by the railroad” the population was only 4,400. Today it’s still a small town of just 7,000.
On the porch we met Ursula, who grew up around the corner and knew Hopper’s sister well, but she never felt comfortable talking to the artist. He was very, very tall and stood with a slight hunch and was always grumpy.
Ursula remembered how the wisteria tree behind us in the photo used to reach all the way across the street. The current gardener, she said, doesn’t know how to cut this tree properly. She enjoys volunteering at the house and meeting people and sharing her stories with them.
Loneliness & Isolation In “Modern” Times
It’s interesting that Edward Hopper saw modern life in 1925 as so isolating when we see those as such simpler times, but loneliness is a human condition. I guess that’s why it’s more interesting to see the house by itself with the neighbors removed.