Ground Swell, 1939


Edward Hopper's lifelong enthusiasm for the ocean developed when he was a boy living in Nyack, New York. He lived near a river port on the Hudson River with an active shipyard. Several years later in 1934, he and his wife built a house and studio in South Truro, Massachusetts, where he created several oil paintings and watercolors that manifest his avid interest in nautical subjects.

Despite its light palette and apparently serene theme, Swell raises themes of loneliness. The blue sky, the sun-kissed figures and the huge rolling water make a calm note in the picture. However, the visible liberation of the figures from each other and their recognizable main occupation with the bell buoy placed at the center of the canvas casts doubt on this initial sense of serenity. The lonely dark element in a sea of dejection. The buoy faces the small sailing boat in the middle of an otherwise empty seascape. Its purpose of emitting a warning tone of the unseen or imminent danger makes its presence in the ominous image. The tendril clouds in the blue sky - often signs of approaching storms - reinforce this sense of disturbance in the otherwise peaceful scene. During this time Hopper worked on the dunes from August to September 15 and in 1939, the Second World War broke out in Europe.


Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

Edward Hopper | Ground Swell