Edward Hopper, “Pennsylvania Coal Town”, Oil on Canvas, 1947, Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio
In the early 1940s, American Realist painter Edward Hopper had a very productive period, in which he painted some of his most famous works, such as “Morning in a City” and “Nighthawks”. During the late 1940s, however, he suffered a period of relative inactivity. By 1947 when he painted “Pennsylvania Coal Town”, his output had slowed. However, in the 1950s and early 1960s, despite faltering health and several surgeries, Hopper created several more major works, including the 1951 “First Row Orchestra” and the 1952 “Hotel by a Railroad”.
“Pennsylvania Coal Town” portrays a man, tending the yard outside of his house, holding a rake or similar tool. Apart from a plant with green foliage in a large vase, the yard appears bare. The man is staring at something we cannot see, a frequent occurrence in Hopper’s work. Many of his paintings depict people gazing at something unknown in the distance. The interior of the house’s front room can be seen through a large window, showing a lamp and a picture on the wall.
As with many of Hopper’s paintings, light plays an important role. The sunlight is shining directly on the man, and one side of the house, in contrast to the rest of the painting, which is shown in shadow. This gives the impression that it is, either, early morning or late evening. Typical of much of his work, this painting does not tell a story but is a location’s moment in time. It is left to the viewer to imagine what is happening here.
Another recurring motif, in Edward Hopper’s work, is loneliness. Many of his works feature a lone person staring out of a window, or sitting at a coffee table. In this painting the subject appears to be alone; there is no sign of life around him. Even the house does not appear welcoming. “Pennsylvania Coal Town” is a fine example of Hopper’s genius, depicting considerable information in a seemingly simple painting.