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Coming Soon: A Test of the Hopper Market

Two bits of news this week got me thinking about the Hopper market. First, Crystal Bridges Museum announced that it had purchased Blackwell’s Island, which will soon go on view in its early 20th Century gallery. Great addition, I thought. Painted in 1928, it is a view of what is now known as Roosevelt Island, just off midtown Manhattan in the East River. It’s a sizeable piece, measuring 34-1/2 inches by 59-1/2 inches.

Hopper_Blackwells_IslandSaid the museum’s President Don Bacigalupi in the press release: “This is a most ambitious composition for Hopper. He painted this work at the height of his powers and it exemplifies some of the best of Hopper’s style: a complex architectural composition with a full range of light and shadow, few people and the drama of the past colliding with the present in the form of historic architecture meeting modern.” Previously owned by a private collector, the work has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art; The Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Institute; the Art Institute of Chicago, and in the big retrospective for Hopper at the Grand Palais in Paris, which drew major crowds when it ran from October last year through February of this.

Though Crystal Bridges didn’t announce the price, it was easy to discover that the painting sold at Christie’s last May for nearly $19.2 million, including the commission, against a presale estimate of $15- to $20 million.

Hopper-EastWindOverWeehaukenThen, within hours, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts announced that it was deaccessioning one of its two Hoppers,  East Wind over Weehawken, from 1934. Uh oh, I thought — would Crystal Bridges have wanted that one? It will also be offered at Christie’s (in December) and its presale estimate is $22– to $28 million.

Uh oh, too, because although PAFA is planning to use the proceeds to fund an acquisitions endowment, “which will be used both to acquire contemporary artworks and to fill gaps in the collection of historic art,” per its press release, Hopper is a very big star. It’s like selling a Picasso or van Gogh, almost, as if one ever has too many. Although the sale meets museum ethics policies, it’s worth noting that PAFA has only one other Hopper: Apartment Houses from 1923.

The PAFA Hopper is a bit smaller than Crystal Bridges’s: 34 1/8 x 50 3/16 inches. PAFE director Harry Philbrick said he chose it for sale because “Hopper prices are rising fast in the marketplace. Also, the academy acquired the painting with its own money; no donor restrictions govern its disposition,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

So Christie’s is being very aggressive here — probably hoping that the museum connection will draw higher bids than s. Both paintings are lovely, but which would you pay more for? We’ll see in December.



  1. George Lansdarf says:

    With any luck, someone will buy it for the Whitney, since their new High Line building has a view of Weehawken.

  2. Keith Glutting says:

    I hope someone can come up with the money to buy it for the new Whitney High Line building, since it will have a view of Weehawken, and, of course, the Museum already has the Hopper Collection. I have never thought of this particular work as a great Hopper because the given variety of architectural styles of the subject distract from Hopper’s distinct sense of invention.

  3. I understand that the sale does fall within the official guidelines (proceeds to be used only to purchase more art). But isn’t it frowned on to sell off a major work like the Hopper when it is one of only two by the artist in the collection (and by a very important American artist)? This seems to me to fall into the deeply regrettable trend in American cultural life to toss out the old in favor of the new. We are losing our history with this relentless focus on the latest thing. It’s sad, and in this specific instance it seems like a disservice to the people of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. The work will probably go into a private collection and not be seen again for years. (That’s what happened to the Eakins’ Cellist that was sold in somewhat similar circumstances.) I’m actually in favor of selling works that are not exhibited, but I am most definitely not in favor of selling accepted masterpieces. Who can say what will be valued in the future. (The Met, for example, unloaded about 200 watercolors by William Trost Richards when he was out of favor, and lived to regret it.) There should be another way to raise this money, if it’s truly needed.

  4. as a sometimes proud alumni of PAFA I was shocked by the email. The current Administrative regime at PAFA- which is the School and the Museum is taken up by the trend to the “Contemporary” and the praise for the “enlightened insight” so reminiscent of Roy Cohn and company touring the super stars and available meat of the Factory before heading to Studio 54. they actually paid more than a cost of an endowment for Oldenberg’s “Paint Torch” the fourth of his whimsy pieces in the city which came 1/3 of the design size and afforded the new regime the opportunity to nod knowingly as he declared “painting is dead”.

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