Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Selling Chop Suey

In a few days, Christie's will auction one of my favorite paintings. "Chop Suey," a 1929 work by Edward Hopper, will be auctioned the evening of November 13, and one suspects it will sell for even more than the estimate of $70-100m, given that this is one of the few major works by Mr. Hopper that is still in private hands, plus the iconic beauty of the piece itself.
Edward Hopper, "Chop Suey," oil, 32x38, 1929
According to Christie's "Chop Suey" was inspired by a Chinese restaurant where Hopper often dined. Overlooking Columbus Circle, it's obviously long gone today. If this was simply a painting of a New York interior, the work would deserve interest for its composition and ideas. But Mr. Hopper shows us his genius in almost every corner of the work, turning it from a good work to a stunning one. Although the partly-seen sign is perhaps the major color point, the other parts are a delight too. The colors contribute to a pleasing abstraction of shapes, the far blue rectangles playing off the dominant yellows. Notice too how he continued that byplay, placing the blue of the near woman's cloche against the bright yellow light coming through the painted window. And see how that blue is echoed by the tiny hint of blue shadow in the lampshade against that same yellow. In the background, a man is in cool shadow, pushing the two figures farther back against the blue light of the far window. The woman in the red cloche on the far left breaks the window frame and helps with the perspective. Also crucial to the painting are the two angular shapes in that far window--reflected lights of two differing intensities, one a scumbled blue--that bounce our gaze back to the lady in green, the actual focus of the painting. Her dress color is the combination, by the way, of the two major colors of the piece. Her face and neck are at the apex of a cone of light coming down through the enormous windows, lighting up the tabletop and reflecting onto the figure, the yellow spilling over her left shoulder. To my eyes this is simply a magnificent work.

Although Chop Suey is being sold from a private collection, I hope it will be acquired by a public institution like, say, Crystal Bridges, the new museum of American art down in Arkansas which is starting to accumulate a fine collection and has a big bankroll. Regardless of the acquiring institution, lets hope the public will have access to one of Edward Hopper's greatest works.

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