We met at the New York University Silver School of Social Work, at 1 Washington Square North in Manhattan. It was part of thirteen row houses in the Greek revival style, built in 1833. They were commonly known as “The Row.”
On the fourth floor of Building Number 3 was what we had come to see: the studios of Edward Hopper, the celebrated oil painter and his wife Josephine Nivison, a watercolor painter and model.
Our knowledgeable guide Amanda spoke about the personalities of both painters and the relationship between the two. They moved to the building in 1913 and in 1924 they married.
From 1905 to 1924, Edward was an illustrator for magazines and newspapers, much like Norman Rockwell. He absolutely hated it! He knew his art was good, but he had no confidence, and he was not a people person. Jo gave him confidence as well as contacts.
Once, when she had a watercolor exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, she shared half the show with Edward. She was feisty and spunky, and she wouldn’t let him give up.
Amanda pointed out pieces of interest in the studios. The north space was Jo’s, complete with a skylight, two portraits of her husband and reproductions of his art on the walls.
For his studio, Edward used the south space, overlooking Washington Square Park. We saw the easel he made for himself out of reclaimed lumber. Since he was 6’5, he needed a larger easel; he put it on wheels so he could move it around.
We also saw the printing press he used when he was an illustrator, and a coal bucket and fireplace, his only source of heat. The studio was bare, bordering on lonely, reflecting his temperament. Nonetheless, his silent, haunting paintings were totally captivating.
In his 40s, Hopper became widely acknowledged as the most important realist painter of 20th Century America. His painting “Night Hawks” became an instant classic, as did many others.
After a prolonged hospital stay in 1967, he insisted on going to his home/studio, where he died peacefully at age 85. Jo died one year later.
If you’d like to visit, go to socialwork.nyu.edu. or call 212-998-5900.