Edward Hopper: Loneliness & Isolation; We Stepped Into His World

Edward Hopper’s paintings are full of lonely scenes, even when there are people together, and somehow your imagination always fills in the story. He didn’t paint what he saw, though; we discovered that he painted his trademark theme, Edward Hopper: loneliness and isolation, no matter what he was looking at. Our lust for adventure this day immersed us into the real-life world of Edward Hopper!

Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks painting

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).

Edward Hopper’s House By The Railroad

Hopper’s Loneliness: Is Artistic License The Same As Lying?

Edward Hopper didn’t paint the house as he saw it, we found out.

  1. Above, it looks like the house is on the level of the tracks.
  2. He cut off two bedrooms and removed part of the porch and a few windows.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
My rendition of The House By The Railroad

I took some liberties with my photo, too. Below you can see how it really looks from the spot that Hopper painted it.

View of the house by the railroad taken from where Hopper stood when he painted it

Artistic License In My Photo-editing

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I deepened the shadows just like Hopper did and also isolated the house even more by darkening the house behind it.
  4. 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.

On the second floor of the actual house by the railroad

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.

She told us that the daughter of the original owner actually saw Edward Hopper from the window, sitting by the railroad station, painting away! She never saw him come any closer to the house.

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.

Edward Hopper’s bedroom

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.

Ursula was friends with Edward Hopper’s sister.

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

We have visited isolated, lonely houses, like this one nearby whose ghosts caused New York State legislators to write a new law!

It’s interesting that Edward Hopper saw modern life in 1925 as so isolating when we see those as such simpler times. The actual house on this day was filled with friendly welcoming people. Life has always been all about how we interpret it.

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.

31 thoughts on “Edward Hopper: Loneliness & Isolation; We Stepped Into His World

  1. Wow, this is such an insightful post Aixa! I agree with you on “interpretation” of the subject – I guess, it makes it more original and singular!❤

    1. Thank you, Richa! It was fun to learn all about this and then use some of what I learned to enhance the photo. Unfortunately, you can’t explain much on Instagram like you can on a blog, so having both is a nice combination.

    1. Thank you, Nilla! It was fun to enhance this photo to try to convey Hopper’s message. We were lucky to have such a wonderful experience for something that started out as just a drive.

  2. Such a interesting post Aixa, it’s so great when there is someone attached with the place and can pass all of the stories connected with it. It’s unique experience 👌

    1. Yes, it’s a real treat to get the stories directly from the people who have lived them. We were very lucky that day! Thank you, Vesna, for reading!

  3. Absolutely fascinating!! My jealousy is solidified. I want this same exact experience and to meet the same exact people. Haha I don’t think artistic license is lying at all. How we interpret things is part of the beauty of life. And you did a fabulous job with your IG post! 🙂

    1. It’s funny how everything worked out, just by following our curiosity. I really wanted you to see the real photo because the Instagram post is so far from reality. Thank you so much, Julie!

  4. This is such an unforgettable and amazing experience, Aixa. I loved your IG photo and you have such a talent for taking pictures. I really didn’t know that this house from the paining actually exists!

    1. Thank you, Lydia! I’m so glad when people from Instagram see this post so they can see the honest photo.

      I love your photos, too! I just followed you on Instagram.

  5. I do like his idea of using the train tracks to depict the isolation of modern technology. Lovely photos… especially your instagram one!

  6. This is wild! Imagine just a casual drive turned into this! Also most artists seem isolated and depressed, regardless of what tine period they’re in.

    1. I know, this was definitely a good day to get out of the house! I’m glad I’m not an artist because it’s too much suffering.

    1. It was so much fun how one thing lead to another. Thank you about the photo, Angela. I’m happy when my Insta-friends see it because it’s not an “honest” photo.

      1. Thank you, Lorelle! Meeting Ursula was definitely a highlight. It’s so wonderful When people can pass their stories along!

  7. Oh wow, I was thinking ‘how the heck did the edit the house from the original like that?’ And then you explained the magic! It looks awesome.

    I actually quite like that Hopper reinterpreted and added a little of his own imagination to the scene and his painting. And then of course reinvented by Hitchcock. It’s fascinating that you got to go in and really get up close to it, and it’s a good job Lori likes people visiting as I imagine there are quite a few who stop by.

    A very interesting point of Hopper being considered grumpy and the aspect of loneliness as a human condition transcending eras and social conditions. It also brings to mind the whole ‘tortured artist’ type of generalised notion, how many who are writers, painters, musicians battle their own mental demons, loneliness and depression. This was such an interesting post, I thoroughly enjoyed it Aixa so thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Caz xx

    1. It was an intriguing day! I love how you mention artists’ “mental demons, loneliness and depression”. Maybe those are necessary afflictions that make a person see the world more intensely!

      Thank you for such an interesting, well thought-out comment, Caz!

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