The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929) by Edward Hopper
Meaning and Interpretation of American Realist Landscape Painting

Pin it

Lighthouse at Two Lights
By Edward Hopper.
Regarded as one of the great
works of modern art from
the American school.
For more details, see:
American Art (1750-2000).

The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929)


Other 20th Century American Art


Name: The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929)
Artist: Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Genre: Landscape Painting
Movement/Style: Realism
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

To understand realist painting
by American artists like
Edward Hopper, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of The Lighthouse at Two Lights by Ed Hopper

Edward Hopper, one of the great realist artists in America is best-known for his offbeat genre painting of urban scenes. Indeed, he is one of the best genre painters of the 20th century. However, this painting, like House by the Railroad (1925, Museum of Modern Art, New York), is an exception, and focuses instead on one of Hopper's passions - the sea. In this coastal landscape painting, the lighthouse symbolizes the plight of the solitary individual stoically enduring the onslaught of change brought about by the 20th century. See also Hopper's masterpiece Nighthawks (1942, Art Institute of Chicago).

As a child, Hopper spent a great deal of time in the shipyards of his home town near New York, and built himself a small boat when he was only fifteen years old. He considered a career as a naval architect, but after leaving school chose instead to study art in New York, while working part-time as a commercial illustrator. Hopper lived and worked in the same New York building until his death in 1967, although he spent almost every summer sailing or painting on the coast of Maine or Massachusetts.

A lighthouse is the only land-based structure that evokes the sea and seafaring. In The lighthouse at Two Lights, Edward Hopper has emphasized the symbolic quality of the subject by using a low angle of view, excluding the sea or surf from his composition, and launching the stark white forms dramatically against the blue sky, the best weather barometer for an artist with a sailor's eye.

One of three oils and several watercolours that Hopper did of this site during the summer of 1929, the painting shows the 120-foot-high light and coastguard station on the rocky point of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Hopper has selected an angle of view that isolates the lighthouse and attached Coastguard Captain's house and excludes the cluster of cottages that surrounds the main light station. By depicting the subject in bright clear sunshine, with only the hint of an ominous weather change in the cirrus clouds overhead, Hopper understates the lighthouse's usual associations with solitary vigils, stormy nights and high seas.

Hopper's painting technique - he learned oil painting under the eminent William Merritt Chase - is in keeping with his dispassionate interpretation of the subject. The dense paint, applied with dead-pan bluntness, emphasizes the solidity of the lighthouse structure and anchors the clumps of foreground shrubbery to the ground. Starkly contrasting areas of light and shade model the forms, but also give a sense of imposing stillness, one of the hallmarks of Hopper's art. Perhaps because of his training at the New York School of Art with Robert Henri (1869-1929), leader of the Ashcan School, Hopper - unlike other modern artists of his generation - did not feel any need to emphasize the abstract qualities of his paintings to make them look modern. He paints his subjects without any sentiment, spin, or theatrics. He is interested only in the presentation of form, colour, and space division.

Other 20th Century American Art

American Scene Painting (c.1925-45)
Focusing on small town America.

American Regionalism (Fl. 1930s)
Nostalgic scenes of rural life.

Black Abstraction (1927) by Georgia O'Keeffe.
Organic abstraction at its best.

American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood.
Iconic portrait of Iowan farming couple in Eldon.

Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931) by Grant Wood.
Iconic American history painting.

Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931) by Georgia O'Keeffe.
Symbolist art from New Mexico.



• For the meaning of other realist landscapes, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.