"Approaching a City”
Author: Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Location: The Phillips Collection
Hopper’s most effective travel pieces are joyless. Places travelers use regularly—train stations, bridges, and hotels—are purged of anything too specific or inviting. Revealing the essentials of a scene, Hopper convinces the viewer to see it truthfully, as if it were for the first time.
Approaching a City depicts an arrested moment on a trip: a wide-angle view of railroad tracks and an underpass that evokes the sensation of the train’s deceleration as it moves toward the city. The unseen traveler (and the viewer) is in a curious limbo, neither completely in the city nor outside of it. A massive wall separates the foreground from apartment buildings in the distance, contributing to the sense of isolation. Hopper compels the viewer to focus on the bleak setting and prepare for what lies beyond the tunnel. Using a somber palette—grays, browns, and ochres—Hopper emphasizes the uncertainty of the journey, completely eliminating bright colors that might convey the excitement and energy that one associates with the modern city.
a tall tree is being felled.
Search, birds, search
for the site of your nests
in this high memory
while it is still murmuring."
— Jules Supervielle