Gloucester Factory and House (1924), Mr and Mrs S. Roger Horchow, Dallas, TX

Hopper in Dallas

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.

Sky view, Dallas, TX, Edward Hopper
Sky view, Dallas, TX

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.

Spring Orchard (1959), Milton Avery
Spring Orchard (1959), 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.

'Tattoo-Shave-Haircut' (1932), Reginald Marsh
‘Tattoo-Shave-Haircut’ (1932), Reginald Marsh

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?

5 thoughts on “Hopper in Dallas

  1. Wonderful point of view in “Gloucester Factory and House.” I’d wager Hopper got up really early to catch the first low sunlight of the morning (though of course this could be late in the day too). Love the color of the water- almost completely empty but so satisfying against the business of the buildings and foliage. Thanks for posting this!

    • Thanks Phillip. The Boston MFA’s Vermont watercolor ‘First Branch of the White River’ (1938) is, if anything, painted from an even steeper slope. Hopper described it, in typical fashion, ‘I sat in a steep mountain pasture of Slater’s [friends the Hoppers were staying with] looking down on this little stream, so very steep a hill that I had to prop up the front legs of my stool to keep from sliding down. Aside from that and the curiosity of the cows, the occasion was not momentous.’

  2. Thanks for this inside look at the private version of The Horchow Collection; I love to read the stories of collectors who started when they were young and the art was relatively affordable. The Horchows certainly made great choices! To answer your question, if I had $400 million I would buy Hopper watercolors–certainly any from Vermont that I could find, plus New York rooftop studies, and any landscapes with trees. I can just imagine having a whole wall filled with them…. Ah, dream on, Bonnie! Meanwhile, I am enjoying your stories of visiting these treasures wherever they reside!

    • Nice choices. Even at today’s prices, your wall would be filled with his watercolors. Maybe throw in an etching for some contrast?

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