Updated: Jul 27, 2020
For the next work on my list of the 50 best/most important/most interesting paintings in and around Boston, I head about 20 miles north to the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover. Completed in 1928, “Manhattan Bridge Loop” is one of Edward Hopper’s largest paintings, about the same size as “Nighthawks” and “Early Sunday Morning.” And it might also be one of his most enigmatic. On the one hand it’s a beautiful, quiet portrait of New York City. The absence of typical city hustle and bustle suggests that this is an early-morning scene, although the shadows seem to indicate that the sun is too high for it to be the very beginning of the day. And although Hopper bathes his scene in a soft, almost comforting light, an undercurrent of oppression permeates the work. The gantries, buildings, poles, and wall all dwarf the lone human in the scene. And the lamppost at the far right seems to keep surveillance on the man as he walks away. Moreover the painting’s dirty palette–its browns and grays and rusty hues–creates an environment devoid of comfort and inhospitable to life. One almost senses the pedestrian is headed to the bridge to seek refuge in nature and the vast open space over the East River. Yet Hopper minimizes the grimness the man escapes with that vibrant brick-red facade and the subtly cool blues of the sky and the silhouetted building behind the lamppost. “Manhattan Bridge Loop” is probably not one of Edward Hopper’s best known paintings, but it certainly is one of his most intriguing.