Highland Light by Edward Hopper
Severe lighting highlights the simple set of structures represented in this painting as mysterious and almost frightening. Is anyone living in them or are they deserted? Could they be haunted? Rather than inviting the viewer into a pleasant outdoor scene, like impressionists such as Monet and Renoir, Hopper warns the viewer to keep his or distance from a barren setting where the only signs of human life—a set of whitewashed buildings—lie just slightly too far away from the viewer to be welcoming.
Georgia O’Keeffe, Cow Skull with Calico Roses, 1930
My favorite Georgia O’Keeffe painting. A representation of New Mexico through the depiction of life at three different stages. This painting succeeds in combining the artificial with the natural, as its subject matter is entirely natural, while the three subjects of the picture were clearly positioned to create a specific aesthetic.
John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Therese, Countess Clary Aldringen, 1896
This very large portrait of the Countess Clary Aldringen, clearly a woman of great wealth and privilege, represents the Countess exactly how she appeared in real life. Sargent represents the Countess with fine detail and matches her fancy white dress and expensive jewellery with an equally opulent and luxurious background, further indicating her status as a wealthy woman.
This fabulous work, which can be seen at the Getty Museum, possesses no mysteries. By looking at this painting, we learn her name, her class, and exactly how she looks. She even faces outward, her eyes on the viewer, and gives us a slight smile, as if she is aware that she is being observed.
Edward Hopper, 11 AM, 1926
One amazing thing about Edward Hopper’s paintings is that because they almost never have a clear narrative or specific meaning, the viewer is able to create his or her own narrative, inventing one’s own reasons for why various aspects of the image appear the way they do. In this particular painting, we can invent our own reasons for why a single nude woman appears in a fully furnished room of an apartment at 11am.
Why is she alone? Is she waiting for someone or something? Why is she nude yet wearing shoes? She looks out at the world, yet it cannot look back out at her, allowing her to get away with her nudity. Her nudity emphasizes her solitude.
Who is she? Is she the wife of a man who is at work? Is that why she is alone? Or is she single? Clearly someone must have hung the painting on the wall above her. Was it her or someone else?
There is also no way to be sure what exactly she is looking at or why. Perhaps she witnesses a particular event or sensation occurring every morning at 11am. Perhaps it is her morning ritual to undress before doing so. It is also unclear how she feels when looking at the window, as her facial expression is entirely hidden from us.
Something else to point out is the framed picture above the woman’s head. We cannot see what it depicts. Is it possible that it is an image of what she is looking at? Also, despite the presence of a large lamp in the foreground, all of the light in the room, and the painting for that matter, comes from the window. This correlates to the woman’s nakedness. Her natural bodily form is paired with natural light.