- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2007

The works of American artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967) touches different people in different ways, in ways some people find difficult to explain.

At Tuesday’s viewing and dinner heralding the new Edward Hopper show at the National Gallery of Art, Roger Sant, a member of the museum’s Trustees Council, named the artist’s “Chop Suey” from 1929 as his favorite painting, saying “I don’t know how, but it just connects to me.” The scene is two women seated together inside a restaurant with the words Chop Suey in bright lights outside.

“Nighthawks” — the art moderne diner scene of 1942 — was the choice of patron Ruth Leffall when asked about the painting she felt she identified with most of all. “But I don’t know why. It’s people in a cafe drinking coffee, and I don’t drink coffee. It’s the colors. … There is such loneliness. It captures something,” Mrs. Leffall said.

Calling the exhibit “wonderful … beyond my wildest imagination,” artist Lou Stovall, another Trustees Council member, opted for one of the many lighthouses — “Captain Upton’s House,” a 1927 work owned by actor Steve Martin — “because it’s so rich and ravishing. There is an elegance about it,” Mr. Stovall said.

Cristian Samper, the scientist who is acting secretary of the Smithsonian, was attracted to images of the coastline of Maine — a logical choice for “a biologist interested in natural history. “I can imagine the landscape under my feet,” he said. Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont mentioned paintings he called “those old farmhouses” as reminders of his home state.

Corcoran Gallery of Art Director and President Paul Greenhalgh enthused about the painting loaned from his own institution (“Ground Swell,” 1937) and also waxed rhapsodic over “Night Windows” (1928), which shows the backside of a woman from the exterior of a building at night. “Hopper expresses the melancholy appeal of the city. He is so laconic and open,” Mr. Greenhalgh noted.

Reactions are telling, said Calvin Cafritz, also a member of the Trustees Council. “Although you don’t know if it is because of the person or the painting,” he said

If everyone present could agree with Vicki Sant, president of the NGA board of trustees, that the artist “produced some of the best loved pictures in American art,” no one was more articulate or vocal in his appreciation than Ralph W. Shrader, chairman of Booz Allen Hamilton, the exhibit’s corporate sponsor.

Mr. Shrader, an electrical engineer by trade, spoke of Mr. Hopper’s ability to “truly evoke the power of place — places that live in our own memories, and places that live in the collective consciousness of the American experience.”

“Whether we grew up traveling the back roads of America or walking the streets of Europe or Asia, we’ve all been there … to the places in Hopper’s paintings. And, we can relate personally to the power of place he stirs in our memories and imagination.”

Mr. Shrader chose the painting “Gas,” a 1940 work in oil, to explain the nature of their appeal. He said it reminded him of his youth, when he drove the back roads of Virginia with his family on their way to visit relatives near Roanoke. “We stopped at an old gas station and general store in Parisburg, Va.; I got a cold Dr. Pepper and looked out on that place — the place Edward Hopper captured in ‘Gas.’

“Hopper has been described as a painter of the melancholy and ‘noir’ — but I feel wonder in his places,” Mr. Shrader said. “ ’Gas’ reminds me of when oil was a symbol of adventure — not a matter of global security. It makes me feel happy and hopeful.”

The evening’s menu had an evocative note as well, especially a cleverly designed dessert imitating in white and brown chocolate one of Mr. Hopper’s houses, The confection was complete with windows on one side — undoubtedly one facing north, a painter’s preferred light.

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