When does it stop being a masterpiece? The Emperors Clothes.
Titian: Portrait of Gerolamo
Great art, but if what made it great was the brilliant subtle shades of colour and juxtaposition of tones when it was painted……
…..what is it now?
As the colours and tones over the centuries have changed and at very different rates. That is if only air has touched it and not the hand of some well intentioned restorer.
The line between very great art and good art is a very subtle and fine line. Are we calling this great art because of its drawing or composition alone? The colours and tones are certainly not what they were when first painted!
So are we guilty of standing in front of many paintings and telling all that will hear that its a ‘masterpiece’ when it may well have been at some stage, but is not any more!?
Painted by Hopper in 1942 like most of his paintings the theme is solitude, space, light and shadow.
Most of his paintings had a daylight theme allowing him to show the contrast of light and dark, mostly through light hitting the side of American architecture casting shadows across an American rural or urban landscape. Here he shows the light/dark contrast in the bright yellow bar walls of ‘Phillies’ against the dark of the urban street corner.
Hoppers work gets more popular as each decade passes. I remember seeing a retrospective of his work at the Hayward Gallery, London in the 1980s, and even now sitting next to me in the Domby Gallery, Southport is the catalogue from that exhibition.
His work was based on either a series of sketches taken in to the studio and completed, or painted outdoors in the wide open American countryside. Like Degas he preferred to work in the studio where the rules change and the artist has control of the elements and time. Outside the weather can change at a greater pace than the clock that already moves too quickly, and work can not move at any slower pace without spinning out of control, that or paint a series of Monet-like time essays as per his haystacks or Rouen cathedral works.
Here with Night Hawks, Edward Hopper has given enough space between the characters in the painting to make them feel alone.
Even the couple are not ‘close’ and the space and emptiness echoes out to the empty street. The interior space is empty too, no images on any wall and the big glass windows have no curtains or adverts to break up the empty areas, it could be a film set where all the extras and props have been taken away leaving the story’s characters waiting for the next scene, the next day.