But I had come to see Cape Cod Afternoon. A sprawling Cape Cod house sits in a summery succotash of field beneath a faded yellow and purple sky. Odd ells of black jigsaw through the painting, the windows are all irregularly shaped, and it has the most haphazard horizon line I have seen in any Hopper painting.
Also, uncharacteristically, Hopper worked at the site outdoors. Jo noted: "I remember the day he brought the canvas home with the most gorgeous blue sky & white clouds flying, tearing themselves in rush forward from behind top of roofs-violent & stirring. But alas E. has changed it-said the sky too important--& no matter how gorgeous & stirring-he not willing to sacrifice the house for the sky." She added, "shed goes in like entrance to a tomb."
About this one, Champ was more reticent. "I never studied Hopper's paintings in any formal way," he cautioned, "But I like his works that have figures in them more than something like Cape Cod Afternoon. Because of that traditional sense of melancholy or something, some kind of tension. There is some element of story or a sense that something has happened or is about to happen: that I like."
"Cape Cod Afternoon," I informed him, "won the first W.A. Clark Prize at DC's Corcoran. Eleanor Roosevelt came and saw it and shook Hopper's hand and said, 'I can see it better if I stand a little farther away from it.'"
"Isn't that great?" Champ chuckled, "Always the politician."
About Hopper’s isolation relating to America or Pittsburgh, he refused to comment.
Luckily, after he went back to his office, I was joined in front of the painting by an older couple. She had bright red lipstick, swollen ankles, and a big wart on the bridge of her nose. She carried a tan purse and wore a blue cotton dress with roses on it. She also flaunted sandals and many rings. He was a portly, with brown eyes and white eyebrows on which rested a leather Greek-fisherman's cap. A rich blue T-shirt covered his ample belly. He wore shorts, white socks, and faded blue tennis shoes. She was from Pittsburgh, but her male friend was an old colleague from the sixties who had often visited her in Pittsburgh for years and was doing so again.
"I think sometimes we [in Pittsburgh] are backwards, provincial," she chewed out of a mouth that moved quickly but didn't open much. "I grew up in New York, but I've lived here since '67 so I consider myself to live in Pittsburgh. I like the friendliness of Pittsburgh. You'll find that Pittsburgh is friendly. Unlike New York where they don't meet your eyes."
"Pittsburgh," she explained, "is sort of isolated from itself, in that there are so many rivers. We have more bridges than even Venice. I heard that on a tour. Bridges and roads are the real things that isolate us. You just can't go from here to there. Everybody I know says about their neighborhoods, 'you have to live here to come here.' And I say, 'That's not true. I would think nothing of driving to a different neighborhood.'"
"We have a huge aging population," She noted. "Second-largest outside of Dade County, Florida. So many of the families, the parents and grandparents have stayed here. And their children stay. They live in their own little group. They probably feel no need to reach out."
She shot a hand to her chin. "That's not a good impression of what Pittsburgh's all about. I like Pittsburgh, though."
Though not from Pittsburgh, the man offered his two cents. "While Susan has said that many people here are in neighborhoods and holding it together, I do agree with Hopper's vision. I think basically we're all very isolated. Lonely, sad: I think he captures that.
"The whole complex [in Cape Cod Afternoon] is going into decay. Perhaps this was a farm here, but all of it is decaying. He just wants to remind you that a family once lived here. The light has a problem getting to it. You're drawn to this black, almost into this house where the family and people once lived. You're drawn in to the mystery of the vanishing of things. In a way, it's like an Egyptian pyramid. It's like some generalized sense of passing of life.
"I think probably as an artist, [Hopper was] more interested in light. But we as viewers look at that and go, 'Oh God.' But as far as [Hopper] being an artist that captures the American scene. I don't see it as only American."