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 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.
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?