A grad student’s discovery “cuts straight through the widely held perception of Hopper as an American original,” without a debt to others, a Whitney curator said.
By Blake Gopnik
- Sept. 28, 2020
Most grad students in art history dream of discovering an unknown work by whatever great artist they are studying. Louis Shadwick has achieved just the opposite: In researching his doctorate on Edward Hopper, for the storied Courtauld Institute in London, Mr. Shadwick has discovered that three of the great American’s earliest oil paintings, from the 1890s, can only barely count as his original images. Two are copies of paintings Mr. Shadwick found reproduced in a magazine for amateur artists published in the years before Hopper’s paintings. The reproductions even came with detailed instructions for making the copies.
Mr. Shadwick spells out his discovery in the October issue of The Burlington Magazine, a venerable art historical journal.“It was real detective work,” Mr. Shadwick explained, Zooming from his sunny apartment in London. At 30, he’s older than most of his graduate-school peers because of a longish spell fronting an alt-rock trio (White Kite), a past not revealed in the blue button-down he wore when we talked and his close-cropped dark hair. Mr. Shadwick was working out the earliest influences on Hopper’s art — one aspect of his Ph.D., half-finished so far — when he figured out that an American Tonalist painter named Bruce Crane (1857-1937) might have played some kind of role.
Then, early this summer, in what Mr. Shadwick called a “eureka moment” of pandemic Googling, he landed on “A Winter Sunset,” a painting by Crane from an 1890 issue of The Art Interchange that was an almost perfect match for one of Hopper’s teenage works, long known as “Old Ice Pond at Nyack,” circa 1897, depicting a winter landscape with a streak of waning light. (A gallery is selling it now, with a price estimate of $375,000; the change in its status might affect buyers’ offers.) Mr. Shadwick went on to discover similar sources for all but one of Hopper’s first oils.