Harbor Shore, Rockland (1926) - Edward Hopper

Harbor Shore, Rockland

The Blanton Museum of Art’s Hopper picture, ‘Harbor Shore, Rockland’ (1926) is so obscure that when I first contacted the museum about it they denied its existence.

The picture is not in the museum’s permanent collection. It’s on long-term loan from local residents J.T. and Frances Neal. J.T. Neal is now deceased and, at the time of my visit, Meredith Sutton, Associate Registrar at the Blanton, had been trying to get into contact with Frances Neal for some time.

Sutton, who has the warm nature of a school librarian, tells me that ‘Harbor Shore, Rockland’ has been at the Blanton since 1992. There are three other pieces also on loan from the Neals.

Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, TX
Blanton Museum of Art

Blanton Trumps Huntington

Back in 1992 the museum was known as the Arthur M. Huntington Art Gallery. Arthur Huntington was the cousin of Henry E. Huntington, who used his railroad and real estate wealth to found the city of San Marino. He built the mansion which now houses ‘The Long Leg’, back in Los Angeles.

Arthur Huntington donated land to the University of Texas at Austin. The university  subsequently sold the land, using the proceeds to found an art museum. Unfortunately for Huntington, someone more wealthy came along. Jack S. Blanton is a Houston oil executive who donated $12.5 million towards a new building for the museum. Built over five years, it is now an imposing, neoclassical home for seventeen thousand works of art. The collection spans from Greek and Roman times through to an impressive collection of contemporary American art donated by the late author James A. Michener, an Austin resident towards the end of his life.

University of Texas, Austin
University of Texas, Austin

Harbor Shore, Rockland

Amongst these riches is one lonely Hopper which, in Sutton’s memory, has never been on display and has never been requested to be seen by a visitor like myself. As with every Hopper, and in particular his watercolors, a real-life meeting says so much more than a reproduction. In a book, ‘Harbor Shore, Rockland’ seems like any other Hopper watercolor of the New England coast, of which he painted a great many: shoreline, rocks, ocean, sky. Perhaps a lone home or lighthouse.

In person, laid out for me in the Customs Hall-like prints storage area of the Blanton, a vibrant blue creates an internal theme for the work. Blue ocean water is splashed over the large rocks in the foreground of the picture. A matching blue lamppost next to the house at the top right of the painting leads the eyes up. The journey ends with a glimpse of blue ocean in the left hand corner.

Hopper: Master of Perspective

In many of his pictures, Hopper used an unusual perspective. You feel this perspective before seeing it. In ‘Harbor Shore, Rockland’ that feeling is of the push-pull of intimacy. The picture draws you in but at the same time pushes you back, as if noticing how closely you had become allied to it.

The viewer is down low, hidden beneath a large rock, which leads the eyes just past the left of the house. Meanwhile, the house, sitting on its ledge, looks out towards the unseen ocean. The house ignores you in favor of the sweeping ocean view, a view you are ignoring to look at the house.

Here is the personification inherent in Hopper’s architecture. Being jealous of a house sounds ridiculous until you look at a few Hopper watercolors, with their serene New England homes dressed in finery. Nevertheless, these pictures are inclusive, for they invite you to share in the experience, to become as much a part of the scene as the artist was.

Are you jealous of a Hopper house? Which one?

6 thoughts on “Harbor Shore, Rockland

  1. Thanks for the interesting post! I agree with you about Hopper’s watercolors–that seeing them in person vs. in books is a revelation. Watercolor has a translucence that doesn’t come across in reproductions (unlike Hopper’s oils, with planes of intense color that reproduce very well). That said, it’s a shame that Hopper’s watercolors are exhibited so infrequently, and that so many of them are hidden away, even if residing in museum collections, as this one. I understand that they’re fragile and the medium is relatively ephemeral…but it’s sad to read about paintings like this that have virtually disappeared, not from over-exposure to light but for lack of being displayed! The good news is that simply by doing this blog piece you’ve brought this Hopper to light, and back to life.

    I always find it interesting to read what Jo Hopper picked out to note about Edward’s paintings. Here is her description of ‘Harbor Shore, Rockland” (as quoted in Gail Levin’s “The Complete Watercolors of Edward Hopper”): “Crescent sweep of shore–green grass, beach, rocks, house above.” You picked out the blue, and Jo, the green, although neither color is very apparent in the reproduction. Of course I wonder if the colors have remained as bright as when Jo first saw them, fresh from Hopper’s palette, or if they’ve faded over time….?

    • Thanks Bonnie for your lovely comment. It was a real privilege seeing so many of Hopper’s watercolors (stay tuned for many more to come!). One of my main aims was to bring these out of hiding and share them with fellow Hopper fans.

  2. A beautiful painting- understated in color but with a wonderful earthy massiveness to the groups of rocks. It’s such a pleasure to come across a Hopper that’s completely new to me. Thanks for your post!

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