From Austin, I motor up I-35 to Dallas through Texas’s Bible Belt. Towns like West and Waco jam the airwaves with sermons about the holy responsibilities of man and wife and how to ‘get in touch with your spouse.’ The western front of America’s culture wars is a boring place.
Static replaces the words of love and hate until I’m greeted by the tangled freeways, parkways and tollways of Dallas. There is a smell of new money here. It’s as green as the manicured lawns and trees surrounding the corporate headquarters and lavish malls.
I navigate my way past the private banks and high-end coffee shops of Dallas’s upper class suburbs to Roger Horchow’s house.
Horchow & Hopper
Horchow, founder of the Horchow Collection of home wares, is an avid amateur art collector. In his collection is another of Edward Hopper’s New England watercolors, ‘Gloucester Factory and House’ (1924). For a man of his wealth, Horchow’s house is relatively unassuming, just another large colonial-style home on a quarter-acre block. Horchow, a towering man in his late seventies, greets me at the front door before telling me the story of his collection.
The restrained exterior of Horchow’s home belies the artistic wealth inside it. Horchow’s pictures are concentrated in two adjacent living rooms. Natural light floods into the main room on this beautiful north Texas morning.
As we stroll around, Horchow digresses every few seconds to point proudly at another painting. ‘After we were married, the first thing we bought was that Milton Avery [painting] with the check we got from our wedding,’ he says. ‘We decided rather than fritter it away we would just buy something that we’d always have.’
The intimacy of the beginnings of this collection define it. The couple only rarely let their paintings travel for exhibitions. They see them not as investments but as a means of personal enjoyment.
Before their marriage, Horchow and his wife shared a love of fine art. Horchow decorated his apartment walls with prints of paintings that he liked, while his wife majored in art at college. After the sale of his company, the Horchows were able to pursue their collection more seriously. They have concentrated on American realists and Impressionists, with a particular interest in Milton Avery.
Avery, a key painter of Hopper’s time, transitioned during his career from a primitive, representational style to one of almost pure abstraction. The Hopper picture, purchased in 1989 from Kennedy Galleries in New York, represents a natural extension of their collection.
As with ‘Harbor Shore, Rockland,’ one of the most striking things about ‘Gloucester Factory and House’ is Hopper’s use of perspective. The painter is perched on a very steep hill looking down at a waterfront factory. Yellowing leaves on a tree lead to a yellow curtain on a barred window.
This vertiginous, almost surreal outlook lends drama to an otherwise drab scene. It transforms the plain houses of the fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts into something greater.
Hopper and the Ashcan School
Horchow’s Hopper is hung above a Reginald Marsh painting. Marsh was a famous contemporary of Hopper’s and a member of the Ashcan School of artists. The Ashcan artists were known for their portrayals of down-and-out New York. Hopper is often compared with the Ashcan painters, in particular Marsh and John Sloan.
Unlike these painters, though, who advocated political views through their art, Hopper didn’t portray the poor masses. Indeed, Hopper found the Ashcan point of view to be somewhat pushy. As one of Hopper’s closest artistic contemporaries, Charles Burchfield, wrote, ‘he presents his subjects without sentiment, or propaganda, or theatrics.’
One of the paradoxes of Hopper’s pictures is that this lack of theatrics gives them their own unique conflicts and tension. Hoppers have an internal drama quite distinct from depictions of drama in the world without.
Given unlimited funds, which seems to be the only way to purchase a Hopper picture these days, Horchow says he’d love to have more of them. In the meantime, he’s ‘happy to go to the museums and look at the others.’ While impressive, the Horchows’ collection strikes me as an intimate affair, especially compared with the collections of three of Horchow’s friends in Dallas. These collections, which are in the process of being donated in their entirety to the Dallas Museum of Art, have a combined value of over $400 million.
Which Hoppers would you buy if you had $400 million?