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Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper Hardcover – June 5, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In what he refers to as a discursive and meditative book, humanities and American studies scholar Wells explores why Edward Hopper, whom he calls a dour creator of suspended dreams, created iconic images that are among the most popular of 20th-century American art. In chapters with such titles as Vortices of Despair, Cold Embers and Isles of Refuge, he offers close readings of thematically linked paintings, proposing interpretations that are imaginative yet well reasoned. Hopper's spare realism often approached the surreal, and he returned to certain themes throughout his career: empty urban streets at dawn; women, either clothed or nude, facing a window that bathes them in harsh light; farmhouses on the edge of woodlands that seem ready to engulf them. Wells relies heavily on the literary sources that Hopper immersed himself in, and he quotes liberally from the large body of Hopper studies. The artist's popularity remains something of a mystery. Wells suggests that Hopper's pessimism touches deep veins of shared experience in the American psyche, but he comes closest to identifying the Hopper hold on the American imagination when he describes the paintings' ongoing interplay between a highly intellectualized ego and a volatile id. Color and b&w illus. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


'Hopper's paintings have become modern icons ... [Wells] has chosen an approach that is more musing than instructing, and in doing so he opens up our personal responses to Hopper's work. ... in these pages, as he defines and the refines his interpretations, I think Wells may have stumbled on why we keep coming back to these paintings. ... Hopper's implicit storylines, his narratives which engender tense, suspended silences, are what make his images so compelling. And so they stay with us.' Daily Telegraph

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Phaidon Press; First Edition edition (June 5, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0714845418
  • ISBN-13: 978-0714845418
  • Product Dimensions: 10.1 x 1.5 x 11.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,727 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. Miller on July 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The author, Walter Wells brings this art and this artist (Edward Hopper) into an almost molecular intimacy. People who like Hopper (usually fiercly) are commonly aware that Hopper was more or less an unfriendly cuss...but his stark, dark, flat,impoverished, humorless, and altogether fascinating works prevail upon us... so we need to know more. Here it is, in (250 plus)very large pages! The most popular of Hopper's paintings have kept many of us more than curious, willing to seek and hang his abundantly available prints, because his subjects and style create mystery, tension, the wonderment of a story...untold. (Hence the title "Silent Theatre") World renown and celebrated works, "Railroad Sunset", "Early Sunday Morning" and "Nighthawks"--or "High Noon". are all inside; discussed, compared, associated and dissected. The book begins with with a charming introduction concerned with Hopper's childhood and youth; his affinity for theatre and literature. From there,the author takes us into a grand array of about 175 paintings, and many etchings, (and relate works by other artists), divided into 15 genres of Hopper's craft and psyche. It is this organization that brings us into what I think is a masterful, beautifully written, account of the Man... his loves, his life, his work -- early, middle and late. How do I say it? --The book "stays after" Hopper, and gets into each painting in granular detail. ( I won't finish it for weeks, or...months. It is vast and thorough...and one can open it anywhere and spend an enjoyable few minutes..or an hour!
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Format: Hardcover
As a long-time admirer of the paintings of Edward Hopper, I was delighted to discover Walter Wells' new book, Silent Theater (Phaedon), a large-format compendium of Hopper's work with a wealth of large color illustrations of the major works and detailed textual commentary that is both scholarly and readable, that is informative, stylistically graceful, and blessedly free both of academic and postmodern jargon. The size of the book places it in what ordinarily goes by the name "coffee table" book, but this is far more than what that rubric, or other such volumes, suggests. Professor Wells' comprehensive and detailed text interprets (often quite originally) and in detail the major works and places the discussion of Hopper's art in the broad contexts of modernism and urban society and culture in the early half of the twentieth century as well as the psychological (e.g., Jung and Freud) and literary forces that influenced Hopper and provided the intellectual and artistic arenas in which he worked. The title suggests both the silence which is so much a part of his work--aloneness, loneliness, and alienation--and the narrative quality of his work which engages the viewer in an active role of reading meaning into the images, whose implications so often go beyond the edge of the canvas. This is a splendid work (at a reasonable price) and a welcome addition to the work that has been done on Hopper, one of America's most original and engaging artists.
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Format: Hardcover
This book studies the art of Edward Hopper through its various influences: the influence of literature and the influence of the artist's mood and psyche, at the different periods of his life. Beyond the mere statement that his was an art of silence, the author manages to dig deeper and shows us how nothing in Hopper's works, whether paintings or etchings, was left to chance. The many top-quality illustrations add to the overall value of this book which is, in my opinion, one of the best available on the artist (along with the catalogue for the 2007 retrospective which also is a must-have).
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Format: Hardcover
Professor Wells and I were colleagues in a university English Department. Over the years we've had spirited disagreements on many topics and reached sweet harmony on at least as many. When I saw his text in manuscript, I expressed some reservations about his reliance on Jungian ideas.
He brings to bear on his subject a superior intelligence and a lucid prose style that in itself adds aesthetic value to reprints of Hopper's work. In my judgment, clarity of thought and expression is the foundation of all good criticism. This book contains no jargon, pretension, or transgressive chic of the sort that has become commonplace in criticism of all the arts. The text invites the reader into a conversation with it and even provokes cavil, both also hallmarks of good criticism, since without them no serious intellectual work can take place. Its range extends beyond art as such, and offers sources from which additional information, always relevant, can be gleaned.
Like all good critics, Professor Wells transcends his own framework ( Jungian ) in his interpretation and judgment of Hopper's work. His commentary achieves cogency on its own merits and will affect how readers see what Hopper is dong and has achieved, even if readers do not see the work in exactly the same way. That accomplishment is the main business of serious criticism.
There are many reasons to buy this book. It's instructive, and the author is pleasant company. It will repay reading and rereading.
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Format: Hardcover
I've been a big Edward Hopper fan since I came across Nighthawks many years ago and happened by this book by accident, to my pleasant surprise.

It covers not only detailed descriptions about the man and his work, but includes one of the most accurate, large and beautiful reproductions of any art you can find in an art book.

I am unable to see Mr. Hopper's work in person at this point but this book brings me the closest yet to it, where even his masterful swooshing brushstrokes are clear and the overall effect bring his subjects to life and takes you into their world as if in a vivid lucid dream that is more real.

That is supposed to be emblematic of Edward Hopper's paintings more than a review of this book, but what ties it to the book is how well the author, reproductions and the book itself captures the essence and meaning of his paintings.
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