262 Richmond, VA: House at Dusk

Richmond, Virginia: House at Dusk

I got into Richmond late on a summer afternoon as the sun set. This was appropriate as I had come to see Hopper's painting titled House at Dusk. Painted in 1934, at the height of the Depression, perhaps the house of the U.S. seemed to be under a setting sun at that point. House at Duskshows a dark-haired woman alone under bright yellow lamplight in a window on the top story of an anonymous building. A pale smoky blue dramatizes the gray stucco facade in dusk. The house is set against trees' shadows. It looks Magritte-like. Wieland Schmied said, "It is interesting to compare [Belgian surrealist painter Rene Magritte's] Realm of Lights (1954)…. Hopper's picture seems more eerie because more real than Magritte's..."

Hopper himself actually spent some time in Richmond. In early 1938, he was set to be in charge of a jury for the Virginia Museum, but he took sick right before. Jo wrote a letter to the museum's director, Tom Colt, who later helped acquire a Hopper for Dayton, Ohio's museum. Colt later wrote, "…the [Virginia museum] officials extended an invitation to him to stay at a local home, and someone sent the invitation through the Rehn Gallery. Rehn called and said, 'For heaven's sake, invite Mrs. Hopper. If she doesn't go, he doesn't go.'" Nevertheless, Edward traveled without Jo. Colt, who had met Jo in New York, wrote to assure her that he and his wife, "stood between [Hopper] and the southern beauties."

A photo was taken of the jury, and Hopper claimed that he came out looking like a "a very gentle, harmless and much resigned old lady." In 1953, Hopper again served on a jury in Richmond. Richmond artists Jewett and Jean Campbell recalled that, at the museum party, "Edward was seated at a bench with Jo standing over him doing all the talking." Jo later wrote: "Life shared with E. H. has been a dull life, not withstanding Mexico, Richmond, the Corcoran & Carnegie...."

The museum was deserted during my visit, so I interviewed an African American museum guard about five-foot-nine, stocky, and good-natured. "You want to talk isolated," he deferentially ticked his head, "talk to her." He pointed to his co-worker, a short, wiry woman with starched black hair and a lengthy jawbone. "She sits in her car until it's time to work, then she punches in, then she punches out and drives away. She don't talk to nobody while she's working either."

When I tried to include her in my interview, she put up her hand and walked away.

"People here are not isolated," the man continued unabated. "We got too many get-togethers. People here will be driving down the street and beep at you if you're on your porch, even if they don't know you. They're isolated, the north from the south, because the James River runs between them. People from the south who go up to school in the north side, their bus has to take the highway. I live in the north side. North side of Richmond is the most crowded part of Richmond. It's too packed in. You can't be isolated. So you're from where?" he asked me.


"It's easier to be alone there," he nodded.

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