Directly opposite the elevator back to the lobby hung Hopper's Soir Bleu, an early work from his days in Europe that shows garish revelers in a Paris bar. In 1907, Hopper wrote to his mother from Paris of the Carnivale "the broad sun displays their defects--perhaps a neck too thin or painted face which shows ghastly white in the sunlight." Though painted before 1922 and therefore not on my list to study, Soir Bleu emerged from the pile of paintings inherited by the Whitney as one of Hopper's more popular and significant works.
An older couple stood discussing it. He was appareled in a tie and coat, and she flaunted a long elegant dress and flashes of diamonds on her wrists, ears, and heart. She also bore a badge saying, "Volunteer." I told them of my project, and she raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, you're a writer? What have you done?"
"A couple hundred book reviews, film reviews, travel pieces, cultural commentary…"
"Oh," she cut me off with a flick of her wrist, "you've done nothing yet. Where have you found the most Hoppers?" she wanted to know.
I may have done nothing, but I had done some research. "Well, your institution received the Hopper estate, so naturally they have the most in their collection."
"Really?" she squealed. "For the longest time, we didn't have any Hoppers up. I'm at the membership desk downstairs and people would come specifically and say, 'Where are the Hoppers?'" Turning to Soir Bleu, she pontificated, "The clown is very lovely. And the blue in the sky: the night we went out on the roof of our hotel and looked out over Montmartre, the light was a little like this. I can't believe so many people say he did the same thing over and over again. You go and see the repetitiveness of some modern artists. I'm just sick of people talking about Hopper's paintings' loneliness. Because that's not the big thing."
Her husband interjected, sounding like a British military officer from an old-time film. "I'm interested more by the drama."
She steamrolled over him, "I don't think you really say, 'what is this woman thinking?' I really don't care. The woman's just another element there for balance. So many pictures I look at, I just want to add something to. But not Hopper."
"He's a great composer," I commented.
"He is a composer," she chipped, surprised by my word. "This is music."
"The music of the spheres," the man declaimed, pleased with his cleverness.
"No," she undercut him. "Music of the rectangles."