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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Monday, August 29, 2011

    A Double Take on Edward Hopper

    “The look of a wall or a window is a look into time and space. Windows are symbols. They are openings in. The wall carries its history.  What we seek is not the moment alone.” –Robert Henri


    Edward Hopper. American, 1887–1967. Evening Wind, 1921. Etching on white wove paper. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm G. Chace Jr. (Beatrice Ross Oenslager, class of 1928). SC 1975:66-2. Photograph by Petegorsky/Gipe.

    The image above is Evening Windby Edward Hopper. Best known for his paintings, Hopper began his career as a printmaker, and it is for the extraordinary etchings he produced between 1915 and 1923 that he first gained critical acclaim. His prints, like his paintings, are subtle vignettes of urban experience, rendered with psychological acuity and an eye to formal abstraction. We see solitary nocturnal figures prowling the shadows of empty parks and cafés, and nudes with mask-like faces at the windows of tenement apartments. His etchings are part social record of a time and place, and part portraits of a timeless interiority, a project perhaps best expressed by Hopper’s most frequent and seemingly contradictory claims about his work: that all he is trying to do is “paint sunlight on the side of a house” and that he chooses subjects he believes will be “the best mediums for a synthesis of my inner experience.” In Evening Wind, as in so many of Hopper’s prints and paintings, the way light suffuses a house isa study of inner experience.

    Hopper was part of the same generation of printmakers as George Bellows and John Sloan—all three studied at the Art Students League in New York City with Robert Henri, who encouraged them to go out into the city and make quick sketches from memory of what they saw there. Popularly known as the Ashcan School, they were notorious for their crude urban realism.

    Consider this etching Turning Out the Lightfrom Sloan’s series “New York City Life”:

    John Sloan. American, 1871-1951. Turning Out the Light, 1905. Etching. Courtesy of Connecticut Valley’s Wetmore Print Collection.

    This print is is likely a source for Hopper’s Evening Wind. They share a subject – a woman getting into bed at the end of the day – and they are compositionally similar, both illuminated by a single dramatic light source that cuts, like the line of the women’s bodies, diagonally across the print. Sloan’s work, which was rejected from the American Water Color Society in 1906 for its “vulgarity,” shows a woman in the playful euphemistic act of turning out the light; she glances over her shoulder at her lover, and begins to peel down the strap of her nightgown.

    Evening Windis similarly sexually charged, but where Sloan’s print is narrative - and thereby perhaps even more scandalous for the time, asking us to imagine what comes next—Hopper’s is more ambiguous. What has this woman stopped to see?  What is she thinking about?  The light from the window (mysteriously, since it is evening) seems to symbolize something, but it’s not clear what—it is suggestive, but it can’t be pinned down.  And Hopper’s subject, instead of sharing a knowing look with another person, is fixated on the window.  She might be watching a lover leave her apartment, or she might just be surprised by the wind that floods the room and engulfs her body.  The uncertainty here is important: we can’t see what she sees.  The window is blank to us.  It illuminates the print, but obscures its meaning; it casts light on the subject, but conceals the object of her perception.  The frame of the window suggests the frame of a painting or print—an image-within-an-image, like the painting hanging on the wall behind the curtain, barely perceptible in the shadows – but it’s a private vision, an image only this woman can see.

    Sloan’s subject, as his title indicates, is “New York City Life.” The label applies nicely to Hopper’s work as well, but, then again, in Evening Wind, isn’t New York City life precisely what Hopper doesn’t show?  It’s what’s happening out in the street - the cars and buses, pedestrians and sidewalks, the urban drama the young woman gazes out at, the area of the print that remains unetched and wiped clean of ink.  You might say that Hopper’s vignette of New York City life is a woman looking at a vignette of New York City life. He turns the Sloanian social record, like the light, into an interior experience.


    michael neary - 04/01/2016

    evening wind, etching by Edward Hopper

    Your comparison of the Hopper etching to Sloan's is instructive. I like the way you have contrasted the possibilities of interpretation of Sloan's narrative form ( more information) to the open associations suggested by Hopper's more austere form.
    For me, the ambiguity of "Evening Wind' that you refer to has a plastic equivalent in the way that window can be felt as space or shape, outside and inside. How easy, and tempting it must have been to sketch some atmospheric rooftops there. Sloan would have, I think; the fact that Hopper didn't suggests that he meant for our interpretations to be kept as open as the window.

    And of course, the curtains embody the form of more than just wind. i can't help but think of Correggio's 'Jupiter and Io'.

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  • Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Introducing Student Picks

    Student Picks is SCMA’s student exhibition program. Each year, seven students are selected by lottery to organize individual monthly exhibitions using the collection of prints, drawings and photographs. Exhibitions are held in the Cunningham Center from 12 - 4 on the first Friday of the month during the academic year.

    Student Picks allows students to engage with works of art from a perspective that isn’t necessarily art historical—they simply follow their enthusiasm through the collection, and what they come up with is always exciting and often extraordinary. Our students help us see the collection fresh, through new eyes; they light on objects we rarely use or pair works we never would have thought of pairing. 

    Stay tuned for posts from our Student Picks curators on creating their own art exhibition! For now, you can read more about Student Picks on the website, on the Grécourt Gate, and in the Sophian.  And take a look at these pictures from last year's Student Picks exhibitions.  This should get you geared up to enter the lottery yourself this academic year!!!  Ballot boxes will start appearing around campus on September 5.  (Ready, get set, GO!)

    Guests mingle at Yollian DaSilva ‘13’s October exhibition “Perspectives in Theater, Perspectives on Theater” - the first of the academic year!

    Kendyll Gage-Ripa ‘12’s December exhibition “Who Is She Really?: Interrogating Representations of the Female Body”

    Nellie Knox ’11 and her family at her February exhibition “Advertising in Art”


  • Monday, August 15, 2011

    In Praise of Books

    I love books. I came from a “bookish” family: people who hoarded and treasured books and spent more time reading than speaking. In college, I adopted a second major in English simply to provide an excuse to read more literature. Like many English majors, I sought a job in publishing after graduation, and luckily ended up in the Department of Publication and Sales at the Whitney Museum of American Art. There I learned that I loathed publishing but loved art. It was also there that my love of books as literature morphed into a fascination with books as visual art. At first I channeled this into a mania for book arts, taking as many classes as I could afford in letterpress, book conservation, and hand-book binding at the Center for Book Arts in New York. To my dismay, I was terrible at it: it is hard to imagine a future as a bookbinder when you can’t cut a straight line, even using a board cutter.

    I still firmly believe that all books, to some degree, are works of visual art; even the most mundane book communicates through visual means: typeface, leading (the space between lines), page size, margins, paper, binding; not to mention any cover art—all these elements are deliberately selected to create specific visual meaning that adds to the personal experience that is reading a book.

    SCMA has a wonderful small collection of livres d’artiste: French artist’s books created between the 19th and 20th centuries where image and text are integrated. My very favorite among these books is Toulouse-Lautrec’s Yvette Guilbert. Even if one cannot read French, it is easy to get a sense of the life of the eponymous cafe singer as she shops, dresses, and performs, as well as that of turn-of-the-century Paris. The images, printed in a soft olive green seep into the text (which is printed in the same color) creating a unified visual whole that pulls the viewer both into and through the book.


    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. French, 1864-1901. Yvette Guilbert, 1894. Lithographs printed in olive green on ivory laid Arches paper. Printed by Edward Ancourt (lithographs) and Frémont (typography). Published by L'Estampe Original [Andre Marty]. Copy 34 from a numbered edition of 100. Gift of Selma Erving, class of 1927