179 Lincoln, NE: Room in New York

Lincoln, Nebraska: Room in New York

The Hopper painting in Lincoln, Nebraska, is one of his finest and has to be seen in person. Room in New York shows a couple in an apartment, glimpsed through a window as if tom-peeped. On the left, a man in his business tie hunches over his newspaper. He doesn't merely read; he shelters himself from the woman sitting across from him at the piano on the right, absentmindedly turning to play a note. She has on a sleeveless party dress with a red bow on its back, like a pretty package. The lampshade behind her creates a halo as if she were a Madonna.

Her contorted posture makes her seem awkward and implies she might be uncomfortable in her relationship as well. The black of the windowsill and surrounding building frame the scene as if it were on stage or a film still--adding to the sense that a drama is being played out. Robert Hughes noted that the high point of view "contributes a dreamlike tone to the image, as though you were levitating."

Upon seeing it in person, the most interesting thing is not the subject (startling enough), but the color, which is unreproducible. The wall of their apartment is an indescribable blazing green, like a blanched lime plugged into an electric outlet. Looking at that color is like hearing fingernails rake a chalkboard. In contrast, the bright orange of her dress sounds like a low electronic honk. The two colors' dissonant tones say as much about the tension in the painting as the characters' postures.

Hopper painted Room in New York right after he painted Room in Brooklyn. His imaginative titling continued. He finished the painting in only three weeks, saying, "The idea had been in my mind a long time before I painted it. It was suggested by glimpses of lighted interiors seen as I walked along city streets at night…"

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