Each time I look at an Edward Hopper painting, I have the urge to talk to the lonely souls that inhabit his world. On this day, we felt like we stepped into one of his world, but not into his paintings. Their loneliness is marked forever on canvas. So is Hopper’s. But it was Hopper’s world that was lonely.
On a Saturday escape into the Hudson Valley, we detoured impulsively, following the road sign that pointed to the Edward Hopper Museum and House. The museum doesn’t require more than 30 minutes, time to visit the rooms on the second floor, Hopper’s bedroom and the kitchen. The museum was less than we were expecting, the experience turn into so much more, thanks to Ursula.
Ursula, was a lonely, older woman who volunteered at the museum. She was also a friend of Edward Hopper’s sister. We’ll tell you more about her later. For now, it’s enough to say that Ursula told us roughly how to find the “house by the railroad” in Haverstraw, NY..
We drove around for 40 minutes, looking for this house. That’s because Hopper didn’t paint the house as it is. He re-interpreted the house according to his own issues of loneliness and isolation.
Hopper’s Loneliness: Is Artistic License The Same As Lying?
Edward Hopper didn’t paint the house as he saw it, we found out. I was disappointed. I wanted something similar for Instagram.
We drove around for 40 minutes, looking for a house that looked very little like Edward Hopper’s famous painting, as you can see why we drove around for 40 minutes. This wasn’t going to be a very good Instagram post, since it was so unrecognizable. Hopper painted the story he wanted to tell, so I decided to tell the same story using a little photo editing magic.
Here are the changes Hopper made:
1. Hopper removed two bedrooms and removed part of the porch and a few windows.
2. 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.
3. The NYC MoMA says he added railroad track next to the house to make it look difficult to access. His message was how modernization was isolating us.
My Plan: Artistic License In My Photo-editing
The house in my edited photo was taken from the corner of the property with a wide angle lens, since 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.
Making the changes helped me understand the painting better. What’s the point of art except to convey a message? Hopper had a story to tell. Technology was of what he wanted to convey. I wanted my photo to share Hopper’s vision. After all, Hopper was the subject of this trip.
Hopper’s “House by the railroad” impressed film director Alfred Hitchcock. He used the painting as a model for the Bates Motel in Psycho. Hitchcock made his own interpretations on the house. He isolated Norman Bates with long stairs and he changed the train tracks for a highway.
Stepping Into history
We parked the car behind the house and we 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. We accompanied him to their front door, also on the second floor. They introduced themselves as Edwin and Lori Castillo and said they had lived in the house for 40 years. Lori invited us into her beautifully-renovated apartment with a spiral staircase to the third floor.
Lori was very proud of her house’s fame. She showed us a collection of articles written about it. She said she loved when people come to visit because sh got to share their passion about the house.
Connecting to the Past: Meeting Ursula
As I said at the start of this post, the museum has very little. All of Edward Hopper’s paintings are in museums or in private collections. The musuem is where you get a glimpse into the artist’s private 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.
Loneliness & Isolation In “Modern” Times
Ursula was happy to find people who wanted to listen to her nostalgia-filled stories. The worst part of old age is the loneliness.
Edward Hopper saw modern life in 1925 as isolating, a time we look back on as so much simpler. The real *House By The Railroad* was filled with friendly, welcoming people. Life has always been all about how we interpret it.