100 Brooklyn, NY: They Say I Am Lonely

Macomb's Dam Bridge shows a pretty landscape, yet a big dumpy gray bridge dominates the middle of the painting. There are actually two arched trusses holding up different parts of the bridge. At left, a concrete pillar with rubber tires around it sits on a long grassy island below the bridge. The river is sky blue, while the sky is mostly white. The water might be so pale partly because it's reflecting the white of the clouds. This composition inverts his usual structure, as the river provides a substitute sky below the bridge.

Brooklyn is notorious as the landing place for immigrant families who couldn't travel far from Staten Island. It's a melting pot, roiling and seething from the mélange of cultures contained within its borders. Much of New York is that way, and a "realistic" view of Macomb's Dam Bridge would have to include many figures. So it's odd that Hopper has left out all the people in his scene of Manhattan. Asked why, Hopper replied dryly: "I don't know why, except that they say I am lonely."

I was not lonely, however. I was viewing the painting with a white-haired woman in a pale blue sweater who was making her way through the gallery. She seemed sweet but a bit edgy. I asked her thoughts about the painting.

"I don't remember it," she said. "I'd have to see it again." We walked back to the painting. "It's very realistic."

Three shrill whistles filled the gallery, and I suspected an alarm had gone off. The woman smiled to calm me.

"It's a little scary. It's my husband. He whistles for me like a puppy dog. It's a little frightening, a little forbidding."

"Yes," I agreed. "You can hear him from miles away."

"No, the painting," she said, flinging a finger at it. "Just forbidding. Isolation: that's exactly what comes through."

Her husband rounded the corner just then. He was a gaunt man wearing a dark blue overcoat. He had heard my questions, and jumped in to answer in a deep round voice as if his throat were coated with oil.

"It's not his usual bright light. It's a distinct lighting situation. We all know that kind of a day where there are those clouds there. I'm looking for some sort of bright light or beautiful situation or something. This painting really doesn't have any. It doesn't strike a special note, particularly when you see something with the eye of a painter. There's nothing stimulating." With a nod to his wife, she skulked behind him and they continued walking through the museum.

Whistling to call to heel your absent wife is one way to overcome isolation.

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