Chop Suey (1929) is a painting by Edward Hopper. The foreground of the work portrays two women in conversation at a restaurant.
According to art scholar David Anfam, one "striking detail of Chop Suey is that its female subject faces her doppelgänger."  Others have pointed out it would not be so unusual for two women to be wearing similar hats, and that it is presumptuous to claim doppelgängers when one subject's face is not visible to the viewer. The painting has an interior subject matter, being inside of a cafe, and does not focus on any one given figure. As with many of Hopper's works, the painting features close attention to the effects of light on his subjects.
Edward Hopper’s artwork is known for its realistic scenes that touch themes of isolation and self-being rather than a narrative context. He often described his art as a “transcription [of his] most intimate impressions of nature” meaning he related the process of painting to that of memory. This could further be described as if when you draw something from a personal memory, certain details can be remembered but everything outside the primary focus is blank background. Chop Suey captures this concept of memory, making the viewer focus on particular elements of sensory iconography whist depicting a theme of isolation due to self being.
The scene depicts two women at a table in a restaurant with another couple in the background. The only features being shown in particular detail are the painted woman’s face, the coat having above her, her companion’s back [to the viewer], the features of the couple in the background, the tea pot on the table, the masked lower window panel, and the restaurant sign outside. These are all features that would bring a sensory element (besides sight) to the memory painted. The buzzing noise of the outside light, the voices of the people in the background, the texture of the coat, the taste of the tea and smell of the cigarette smoke (held by the man) and the muddled light from the masked window.
By detailing painting only the sensory iconography is takes a step back from pure realism, as if by painting this complete memory you are also destroying the fine details that make it actively realistic. Rolf G. Renner, author of “Hopper” states that, “…part of what [Hopper’s] pictures are ‘about’ is that death or decay which all paintings in some sense represent, since they destroy the immediacy of perception through the transformation into an image”.
Although the scene of the painting takes place in a social environment there is the sense of loneliness prevalent. The woman in green facing the viewer is sitting with her companion but she does to seem to be interacting with her (Fig. 2). As with the couple in the background, the man looks withdrawn from the woman he sits across. Every human figure is isolated and withdrawn from one another and reserved within themselves. This is portrayed with hidden or obscured faces, retracting a human essence to the figures. This further applies to the woman in detail, even though we get a full view of her face there is a detachment to her cause of her stark makeup.
The alabaster skin with the bold rouge and painted lip suggest only the impression of a woman, similar to a doll, it only suggest the appearance of a girl. Normally in context with the style of the era, late 1920’s, this could be taken as a trendy and lively style, “the women's tight-fitting sweaters, cloche hats, and made-up faces, which in a previous era would have marked them as sexually available, had become mainstream”. But Hopper negates that by making the woman’s face the same value of white as other blank features in the background, thus hollowing-out her human essence. The viewer interprets her to be “spacing out”or listening un-intently rather than making eye contact and interacting with the viewer, as if she is not focused on her surroundings.
The composition of Chop Suey further encompasses Hopper’s concept memory as opposed to complete realism. The balance is held across the middle section of the painting with there being more un-detailed areas just above the eye line of sight, these areas are marked with rougher brush marks. The negative/ un-detalied space in the background further add to this because the eye simply passes over them and focuses more on the details presented. These spaces are simple cause they are the background features that where not committed to memory. There is “weight” held in the presence of details contained between the figures at the tables all the way to the details in the design of the sign outside, the hanging jacket and the lower window covering. This gives the effect of the viewer seeing the scene and all the important, ignoring the exterior context. This is described in an article by USA Today Magazine, “The brief interruption in action, the mask-like face of the protagonist, and the abstract geometries in the windows contribute to the sense that the unfolding narrative is not about these specific actions or this place, but rather about a modern state of being”.
With this in mind the viewer can assume the narrative behind this particular memory. In a bibliography by Gail Levin, the location of Chop Suey is described, “…the setting recalled the inexpensive, second floor Chinese restaurant the Hoppers had been frequenting in Columbus Circle”. This might explain the primary focus on the woman (possibly his wife, Jo) and the dullness of the surroundings. If it was a place Edward Hopper had frequently visited then there would be no reason to concentrate on the surroundings, but rather the moment of the scene.
A bumper played on the cable channel Turner Classic Movies, titled The Sunny Side of Life, was inspired by Chop Suey and other Hopper paintings.
- Chop Suey at The Art Institute in Chicago
- High Resolution Image of Chop Suey
- "Hopper" in Smithsonian Magazine
- Oral history interview with Edward Hopper. 1959 June 17. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
- Renner, G. Rolf. Hopper. Cologne: Taschen, 2002.
- Troyen, Carol. “It was never about the food.” Magazine Antiques 183, no 3 (Spring 2016): 102-109.
- Updike, John. Still looking: essays on American art: Hopper’s Polluted Silence. New York: Knopf, 2005.
- “Edward Hopper Master of Silence” USA Today Magazine 136, no. 2752 (Jan2008); 34-46.
- Levin, Gail. Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995.
- ^Anfam, David: "Edward Hopper.", page 39. Tate Publishing, 2004.
- ^Berman, Avis: "Hopper."
- ^Hopper, Notes on Painting,150.
- ^Renner, Hopper, 65.
- ^Troyen, It was never about the food, 102.
- ^Updike, Hopper's Polluted Silence, 188.
- ^Edward Hopper Master of Silence.
- ^Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, 221.
Edward Hopper was born in 1882, in NY, into a middle class family. From 1900 to 1906 he studied at the NY School of Art, and while in school, shifted from illustration to works of fine art. Upon completing his schooling, he worked as an illustrator for a short period of time; once this career path ended, he made three international trips, which had a great influence on the future of his work, and the type of art he would engage in during the course of his career. He made three trips to Europe between 1906 and 1910. In retrospect, Europe meant France, and more specifically, Paris, for Edward Hopper. This city , its architecture, light, and art tradition, decisively affected his development.
When he arrived in 1906, Paris was the artistic center of the Western world; no other city was as important for the development of modern art. The move toward abstract painting was already underway; Cubism had begun. There, in 1907, Picasso painted his legendary Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Hopper, however, later maintained that when he was in Paris he never heard of Picasso, who was to become so important for the development of modern literature. For Hopper, the encounter with Impressionism was decisive. The light in these paintings and the thematic treatment of architecture and nature particularly attracted him and were to influence all of his work. His reaction to the Impressionists is directly reflected in his own art. He forgot the dark, Old Master-like interiors of his New York student days, when he was influenced mainly by the great European artists - Francisco Goya, Caravaggio, El Greco, and Diego Velazquez. The influence of Impressionists, such as Monet, Cezanne, and van Gogh is directly reflected in his own art. His palette lit up and he began to paint with light and quick strokes. Even in 1962, he could say, "I think I'm still an Impressionist."
In 1910 Hopper returned to the United States, never to leave North America again. During the 1910s, Edward Hopper struggled quite a bit to gain any recognition for the works he had created. During this period a number of his works were distributed through various shows and exhibits in New York, but very little, if any attention, was given to his pieces. Oil painting was a focal point of the work he had done, but a majority of the sales he made during this period, was for works he had created doing etching work and murals.
At the age of 37, Edward Hopper received his first open invitation to do a one person exhibit, featuring some of this finest pieces of art. 16 pieces of his work were shown at the Whitney Club, and although none of the pieces were sold at this exhibit, it did point his career in a new direction, it got his art work out to the general public, and he became a more notable name in the type of work and the art forms which he most wanted to focus his career on, for the future works he would create.
A few years later, Edward Hopper found his career had taken a turn for the better, and he was doing well in sales, and financially with the works he had created. He was invited to do a second one person exhibit, to feature new works, and to create a buzz about the work he had created in recent years. The Frank KM Rehn Gallery in NYC, was where this second exhibit took place, and it received far more attention and a much larger crowd, due to the location where the exhibit was taking place, and also because of the fact that more people were now aware of the works Edward Hopper had created.
House by the Railroad, was a famous painting created by the artist, which was the first work to be acquired for the Museum of Modern Art, which had only recently been opened for general viewing. Strongly defined lighting, clearly defined lines, and cropped viewpoints, were some of the features which this art work captured; and, this embodied the style in which Edward Hopper would use later on in his career, and with the future works that he would produce during the course of his career as an artist.
In 1923, Edward Hopper married a fellow student who attended the NY Academy where he got his education, Josephine Nivision. Not only did she pose for nearly half of the female figure pieces which he created during his career, she also encouraged and pushed him to engage in different art forms during his career as well. She pushed him to work with water colors, and she kept records of all the pieces he designed, the exhibits he was to be a part of, and all of the sales of the pieces which were made, during these exhibits in which his work was presented.
In 1933, Edward Hopper received further praises for the works he had done, and for a piece that was on exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. His highly identifiable style, and mature painting styles, were some things he had become known for during this period. The gorgeous landscapes, the quiet rooms and empty rooms he designed, and the transitory effect which many of his works posed, created a sense of contemporary life and a new style, which many in the art world recognized, and many praised him for this distinct style he had created in his art forms.
In Edward Hopper's most famous piece, Nighthawks, there are four customers and a waiter, who are in a brightly lit diner at night. It was a piece created during a wartime; and many believe that their disconnect with the waiter, and with the external world, represent the feelings of many Americans during this period, because of the war. The piece was set up in 1942, in the Art Institute of Chicago, and was seen by many people while it was on exhibit for a show.
Between the 1930s and 1950s, Edward Hopper and his wife spent quite a bit of time, and most of their summers, visiting Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In many of the works that Hopper created during this period, many of the scenes, the common locations, and nearby attractions which they visited, were often seen in the art forms that he created during his career. He also started to travel further out, and visited regions from Vermont out to Charleston, in order to add more new points of interest to his collection, and to broaden the works and the locations which he would include in many of the images that he created over the course of his career.
Later in his career, many of his works were displayed in various exhibits, namely at the Whitney Museum, which was located in New York City. Later in his career, during the 1940s, was a period in which he found the most commercial success. But, soon after, and even during this time period, he began losing critical favors. This was namely due to the new forms of art, and the fact that abstract pieces were beginning to enter the art world, which took over the work he did, as well as the work of many famous artists prior to him.
The themes of the tensions between individuals and the conflict between tradition and progress in both rural and urban settings, are subjects that Edward Hopper always returns to, as artists have always returned to their beloved themes - Van Gogh his Sun Flowers, and Monet his Water Lilies. His choices of subject matter - particularly the places he painted - seem to have been somewhat unpredictable, since they were part of his constant battle with the chronic boredom that often stifled his urge to paint. This is what kept Hopper on the move - his search for inspiration, least painfully found in the stimulation of new surroundings.
In the 1940s and 1950s, Hopper found himself losing critical favor in the wake of Abstract Expressionism. Among the new vanguard art movement emerged in the early 1940s, artists such as Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko advanced audacious formal inventions in a search for significant content. By breaking away from accepted conventions in both technique and subject matter, those artists made monumentally scaled works that stood as reflections of their individual psyches, and attempted to tap into universal inner sources. But Hopper continues on to paint the feeling familiar to most humans - the triste embedded in existence, in our intimate knowledge of the solitude of the self. Although the 20th century was the heyday of Sigmund Freud and Freudian Psychoanalysis, if ever Hopper felt his psyche was distorted, he did not want it corrected, for art came from who the artist was in every way. He did not wish to tamper with his subconscious nor his personal vision of the world. Hopper never lacked popular appeal, however, and by the time of his death in 1967, Hopper had been reclaimed as a major influence by a new generation of American realist artists.
Great art is the outward expression of an inner life of the artist, and this innerlife will result in his personal vision of the world.” - Edward Hopper