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The High Museum in Atlanta Searches for a Hopper

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia

It’s a bare-knuckled, ten hour drive on the interstate from Sarasota to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. We pass roaring wildfires and navigate snarled traffic. But even that isn’t enough to keep me awake.

An empty Starbucks in the middle of Georgia offers relief in the form of twenty ounces of scalding coffee. My mother offers to drive. But she is uninsured and I am in debt.

She tells bad ‘knock, knock’ jokes until the caffeine kicks in. We finally hit Atlanta in time for a beautiful summer’s dusk.

Atlanta: A Rapidly Growing Small Town

Atlanta is a rapidly growing city with a small town feel. Mammoth freeways give way to two-lane backstreets. Here, antebellum establishments like Mary Mac’s Tea Room serve country fried steak, pot likker with cornbread and squash soufflé in ornate dining rooms.

The high-tech campus of the Centers for Disease Control sends epidemiology sleuths to outbreaks around the globe. While across town the World of Coca-Cola museum teaches the world to sing.

The High Museum of Art: An Atlanta Museum

The High Museum of Art is the perfect representative for Atlanta in the art world. It is friendly and unpretentious. Yet it is housed in a stunning new Renzo Piano designed building.

The High Museum’s permanent collection of eleven thousand works is relatively small but it hosts world-class exhibitions from the Louvre and the Michelangelo Museum. Back in the 1950’s, the High Museum’s Director, Reginald Poland, was desperate to add a ‘good representative’ Edward Hopper picture ‘of museum significance’ to the High’s permanent collection.

The High Museum’s Search for a Hopper

Beginning in 1957, Poland corresponded regularly with the Rehn Gallery in this regard. ‘I have you very heavy on my mind for a Hopper painting,’ wrote John Clancy o Poland on August 9, 1957. Clancy was Frank Rehn’s one-time assistant and director of the Rehn Gallery after Rehn’s death. ‘But it has been almost impossible,’ he continued, ‘to pry one from a private collection. You see, the bulk of his work is museum owned or in the hands of persons who are going to give them to museums.’

‘It has been almost impossible to pry a Hopper from a private collection.’

Poland stressed in one letter that the High was not in the market for ‘Girlie Show’, a 1941 Hopper painting of a nude woman in a burlesque show. Perhaps such a picture was too salacious for Atlanta’s population at the time.

Girlie Show (1941) Edward Hopper
Girlie Show (1941)

Poland then had the Hopper watercolor ‘Vermont Meadow’ shipped to Atlanta for his perusal but did not purchase it.

The Search Ends

Finally, on July 8, 1959, Poland wrote to Clancy, ‘We like the Edward Hopper watercolor “Cape Elizabeth” very much and would like to have it, if there is any way possible for us to do so.’

The first installment for the picture was paid on October 21, 1959 and, almost two years later, on October 6, 1961, Poland sent the final installment. His accompanying letter finishes, ‘We appreciate your patience in awaiting the balance. As you know quite well, while Museums have great art they do not have great funds!’

The title of ‘Cape Elizabeth’ was posthumously changed to ‘Foreshore-Two Lights’ (1927) to reflect its documentation in Jo’s Record Book. Two Lights is a rocky point with two lighthouses at the tip of Cape Elizabeth peninsula. Jo wrote about ‘Foreshore-Two Lights’, ‘This one of his best sea pictures [sic], calmly dramatic but making no claims.’

We’ll meet ‘Foreshore-Two Lights’ in the next installment. Was Jo right?

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