Hopper's Chop Suey Epitomises Disconnection Between People in Modern City

Despite living in a crowded city full of people, sometimes we feel a sense of solitude in the modern world. Perhaps that's the reason why we can sympathise with paintings by Edward Hopper, whose works often focus on emotional themes of loneliness, regret, boredom, which touch us when we are most vulnerable. A painting with this iconic Hopper theme will go under the hammer in New York in two weeks. Hopper's Chop Suey is expected to fetch US$70m. Eric P. Widing, Deputy Chairman, American Art, Christie’s, talks to us about this iconic painting.

Chop Suey

Edward Hopper

Nighthawks is probably Hopper's best known work

Q: What's so special about this painting?

Eric: This is a masterpiece by Edward Hopper, who is the leading American modernist painting scenes of the cities, particularly New York City. The urban scenes, in this case, office girls who are secretaries or office workers, out for dinner in a Chinese restaurant in the City of New York. Hopper is best known for bringing these everyday scenes to life, in a modernist idiom to create something more than just a record of the scene.

Eric: It happens there, sitting in a Chinese restaurant. You’ve got two couples together, one in the foreground and the other couple in the background. Sometimes in the case of Hopper, there is a story underneath. It’s a little harder to understand at first. You look closely at the painting, which was set in a restaurant, there’s no food on the table. With Hopper, there’s often something a little odd, a little unusual in his pictures.

The Chinese restaurant depicted in the painting exists in the real world

Q: What do you mean by 'odd and unusal'? 

Eric: The people are sitting together but they don’t seem to be talking or communicating with each other. There’s a little disconnection between themselves. There are tensions of a relationship or understanding between them as well. I think what people love about Edward Hopper and why he is so popular in the United States – he is considered one of our greatest early modernist painters – is his sense of what’s it like to live in a city. His sensibility about life in New York is something that we can sympathise with, as city dwellers as many of us are.

Eric P. Widing, Deputy Chairman, American Art, Christie’s

Hopper's East Wind Over Weehawken

Q: How much do you expect this painting to fetch?

Eric: The current record is a painting sold at Christie’s, East Wind Over Weehawken, which sold a few years ago for over US$40m. That was a painting of home and houses in New Jersey, in New York city. It was not a figural work. It was a city landscape. We feel this painting is more classic, characteristic of his famous works.

Eric: When this painting was painted, it was immediately a success. It’s been in almost every single book on Hopper, every major exhibition on Hopper ever since. It was featured in 2012 at a major exhibition in Paris at the Petit Palais, where hundreds of thousands of people went to see the Hopper exhibition. It’s one of the best-attended exhibitions in Paris ever, along with Monet, Picasso, Hopper show is one of the best-attended.

Q: Any other examples by Hopper in private hands?

Eric: You can see masterpieces by Hopper in Chicago Art Institute, Metropolitan Museum in New York, Whitney Museum in New York. There are major works by Hopper in important museums throughout the United States. There are almost none left in private hands, none that I know from this early, classic period of Hopper in private hands. We are thrilled to have brought the Hopper to Hong Kong. Perhaps it may even stay in China.

Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Chop Suey.

Lot no.: 12B
Created in: 1929
Size: 81.3 x 96.5cm

  • The artist.
  • [With]Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery, New York.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Mark Reed, Alexandria, Virginia, acquired from the above, 1950.
  • [With]Frank K.M. Rehn Gallery, New York.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Louis Cohen, Great Neck, New York, acquired from the above, 1968.
  • [With]William Zierler, Inc., New York, 1972.
  • Acquired by the late owner from the above, 1973.

Estimate: US$70,000,000 - 100,000,000

Auction house: Christie's New York
Sale: An American Place | The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection Evening Sale
Lots offered: 42
Auction date: 13 November 2018|7pm