The Mansard Roof (1923). Watercolor on paper. Brooklyn Museum of Art.
Edward Hopper: “At Gloucester, when everybody else would be painting ships and the waterfront, I’d just go fish around looking at houses. It is a solid-looking town. The roofs are very bold, the cornices bolder. The dormers cast very positive shadows. The sea captain influence I guess — the boldness of ships.”
From Hopper’s Places (1998, Univ. of California Press), by Gail Levin: “Hopper painted The Mansard Roof in the Rocky Neck section of Gloucester, which even today is something of an artists’ colony. He described Rocky Neck as ‘the residential district where the old sea captains had their houses’ and later recalled that it had interested him ‘because of the variety of roofs and windows, the mansard roof, which has always interested me…’ He also noted that he had ‘sat out in the street… it was very windy’ and offered: ‘It’s one of my good watercolors of the early period.’ Actually, Hopper’s view was from the back of the house, down toward the water, which must have increased the effect of the wind he so vividly recollected. Today the house is well preserved but missing the yellow awnings that he caught fluttering in the strong breeze.”
From Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper (2007, Phaidon Press Ltd.), by Walter Wells: “To be sure, not all of Hopper’s houses yield symbolic narrative. William Boyd’s distinction between the oils and the more ‘straightforward’ watercolors needs recalling: Hopper’s watercolors of architectured structures tend simply to manifest his affection for that genre. Even so, his preference for certain anachronistic styles makes even those watercolors metaphors for a real or imagined past. Hopper’s attraction to mansard roofs, for example, while expressing itself in exquisite representational watercolors like Talbot’s House, Haskell’s House, or The Mansard Roof, also makes each an allusion to that bygone period in America — the 1870s, immediately before his birth — when French Second Empire style was the vogue in domestic architecture.”
NPR’s All Things Considered featured a segment related to The Mansard Roof (and a Museum of Fine Arts, Boston retrospective on Hopper) in July 2007. That segment can be listened to here.
Adam’s House (1928). Watercolor with charcoal on paper. Wichita Art Museum.
From Hopper’s Places (1998, Univ. of California Press), by Gail Levin: “The subject of Adam’s House, situated on a high hill overlooking the town below, …remains just about as it looked when Hopper painted his watercolor. Even the locations of the yellow fire hydrant and the utility pole are unchanged. Only the ornament that hung over the doorway is missing, replaced by an additional pair of shutters and a trellis at the entrance. The large tree in the yard on the left has disappeared, and the style of the picket fence has changed; but the view of Gloucester beyond is essentially the same. The contrast of the foreground with the distant panoramic view of the town below makes this a particularly interesting composition.”
As of 2010, things are remarkably the same: the white picket fence still stands; the house on the extreme right remains, as does the larger house down the hill in the center right; and there’s still an unobstructed view of City Hall’s clock tower. Only the position of the utility pole is markedly different from Hopper’s vantage point.
Parkhurst’s House (The Captain’s House) (1924). Watercolor on paper. Private collection.
Captains courageous indeed! It’s doubtful Capt. Parkhurst would appreciate living next door to a tanning salon (on the adjacent left-hand lot), but that’s the current state of things for his former abode. Oh well, the winters are long in Gloucester, and the locals need a few extra rays, now and again.
Ahoy, Capt. Parkhurst!
Haskell’s House (1924). Watercolor on paper. Private collection.
From Hopper’s Places (1998, Univ. of California Press), by Gail Levin: “When Hopper painted Gloucester Mansion, the side view of a large, ornate Second Empire house set on a hill overlooking Gloucester harbor, and a year later painted this same imposing house in a frontal view as Haskell’s House, he was working in a location not far from where he painted his 1912 oil Gloucester Harbor, but his interests had led him to something much more personal than the picturesque harbor captured by so many artists before him. He now focused on this ornate hybrid style of architecture which Jo called ‘the wedding cake house,’ a fitting subject for a work painted on their honeymoon.
Although painted in a completely different color scheme, the structure of the house today is just as Hopper depicted it. Yet the overall appearance is so changed that one does not initially recognize it. Unlike the house of The Mansard Roof, still set in a quiet corner of Rocky Neck, this once stately house is on one of busy Gloucester’s main thoroughfares, overlooking the now industrialized harbor. The short shrubs that once lined the long steps leading up the hill to the house have been replaced by tall fir trees which totally block the view that Hopper painted.”
There’s also some contemporary street-level housing that is totally unavoidable in framing Haskell’s House today — with orange doors. The Gloucester city official who approved such a godawful mistake should also be forced to live behind such an orange door… in Architecture Hell.
Haskell’s House (Gloucester Mansion) (1923). Watercolor on paper. Art Institute of Chicago.
The less famous side view of the same “wedding cake house” that was painted a year later from the front.
Abbot’s House (1926). Watercolor on paper. New Britain Museum of American Art.
By 2010, the house seemed to have, at some point, fallen victim to a multi-family conversion, and a number of windows had been lost in the process, as well as the outer front doorway. At least the white picket fence was still standing.
Tony’s House (1926). Watercolor on paper. Albright-Knox Art Gallery.
Of all the Hopper houses still standing in Gloucester, the former abode of Tony, in “The Fort” section of Gloucester’s harbor, bears the least resemblance to the image so long ago preserved in watercolor. What remains: those upward steps; that stone wall, still extending out leftward, behind a new row of low shrubbery; the front door, now partially obscured by the wooden slats of a tacked-on deck; that chimney, still where it stood; and those jutting windows to the right of the front door, admittedly transformed by a dark-shingled look that replaced the white clapboard (for some reason) — but, jutting windows just the same.
Alas, the ghost of Tony himself, wandering home drunk from the nearest tavern, would be hard-pressed to find his old haunt, given all the changes the cold years have wrought. (“There used to be a point to that house!” he might spookily shout out, on a windy night, after too much Porter.) But, Tony’s House it still is… and so it shall remain.
While touring Edward Hopper locales in Gloucester, stay at Julietta House. Located only steps away from Hopper’s two vistas of Prospect Street, Julietta House is also a central point from which to seek out most of Hopper’s many Gloucester perspectives.
During the fall and winter of 2009-10, I lived in Gloucester, residing at Julietta House; and, in exchange for rent, I was commissioned by the innkeeper, Susan Albiero, to start this artistic quest. While many of Hopper’s houses had been identified over the years, a number of them still remained elusive. (Not only that, but images of a number of these works could not even be found on the internet.)
Using Julietta House as our base of investigations (and employing the aid of a trusty guide dog, who goes by the alias of “Tiglet”), Susan and I were able to track down myriad houses — for instance: those of Captains Parkhurst & Welch, as well as Abbot’s & Tony’s — that even Hopper’s ghost would be hard-pressed to recognize today.
But there are still a few mysteries yet to be solved. So, come to Gloucester, and continue the quest for yourself!
~ Daniel Marley, Screenwriter (Ulterious) / Hopperhead
Davis House (1926). Watercolor on paper. Private collection.
From Hopper’s Places (1998, Univ. of California Press), by Gail Levin: “On Middle Street, across from the Davis house, Hopper found a convenient churchyard in which to work without intruding on someone’s front steps… He later said that so many artists were working in front of the Davis house painting the [Universalist] church that he decided to sit in the churchyard and paint the house! The house is now white and the trees are gone, replaced by low shrubbery. Hopper compressed the pictorial space, so that the railing alongside the churchyard appears to be directly in front of the house instead of across the street. By cropping the house along the left side, he created a sense of continuity, the feeling that the scene goes on beyond the boundaries of his composition.”