20090516

245 Tucson AZ: The City



I pioneered out of downtown to the University of Arizona campus to see the Hopper painting here: The City, in which you look down onto a Second-Empire, French-style building fronting a public square. All the other building fa├žades are flat tenements trailing away into the distance where looms a skyscraper. Jo noted, "over 100 windows...." The painting seems a battle between French and American architecture. The French arched windows are charming, but the endless square windows on the others imply that American buildings will win by sheer numbers.

A woman named Betsy displayed the painting for me in storage. She was matronly, with an elfish nose that made her look like a young girl, as did her high energy level and quick, bird-like movements. She had short hair and wore a blousey pastel dress along with white polished shoes.

"There really is a physical isolation in Tucson," she began. "We just moved. The neighborhood we were in was an established neighborhood, and we lived there for 10 years and knew very few neighbors. Nobody came out of their houses. Where we moved into was a townhome, which, in itself, is more intimate. Like of 120 homes, we probably know half the people. We may not know their names, but we see them at the park with the dogs, or they walk. I want to say Tucson could be like this [The City]. I don't think we are. We're less metro than Phoenix. We tend to go out and visit our neighbors."

Betsy told me about the man who donated the Hopper. "C. Leonard Pfeiffer was an alumnus and businessman who moved to Tucson and got a master's degree here. He had begun his bachelor's degree at Cornell before World War I interrupted, and by the time he went back after a 22-year break, his son, George, was a sophomore here while he was a senior.

"He wanted to create an art museum, and so he took a stamp collection that he had and sold it, and with the proceeds from the sale, bought artwork. It was right during World War II, which was a very conservative environment. And his collection reflects that sentiment. They concentrated on work by living American artists. And the Hopper was one of those gifts."

A newspaper article announcing the collection's 1943 preview at New York's Metropolitan Museum said, that making one of the first 12 purchases Edward Hopper's The City, "demonstrate[d] good judgment as well as Catholic taste."

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