Oddly, the wallpaper which showed up on my desktop at midnight is a Hopper painting, though not of a street scene. It is the seascape called Ground Swell. It's a painting I've never seen in person, but which has (as have many of his works) fascinated me since I first saw a reproduction of it in a book. My 1024 x 768 monitor screen does not show it to its best advantage, I'm sure, but every time it pops up I feel compelled to look at it for a while before connecting to the Internet.
The small boat in the foreground, seen from slightly to the starboard side of the stern, rolls a bit to starboard as it rides down a swell, and its mast rises at an angle out the top of the frame, as does one corner of the square sail. Four figures are on board -- or is it five? There are clearly three men, all shirtless. One, wearing a light blue hat, strains at the tiller, back muscles rippling. A second, with reddish hair, leans back against the low cabin with his arms crossed. From the back, he looks as though he might fall forward off the deck when the boat heels to port. These first two men are deeply tanned. The third, turned three quarters toward the viewer, is blond and oddly pale, but for the bright red of his visible cheek. This one stands atop the cabin, his right hand grasping the taut rigging of the mast, his left braced against the mast itself. His bell-bottom pants are probably white, but have taken on the bluish cast of sea and sky.
The fourth clearly discerned figure appears to be a woman. She lies across the cabin roof, raised on her elbows, her red head scarf emerging from behind the middle male figure whose back conceals her face. But just above the small of her back is what may be the dark head of another person, who would be sitting or crouching on the deck just forward of the cabin. If this is a person, no clue is given as to sex or stature. I've often wondered if this is indeed a person, or some part of the boat itself. I doubt that Hopper would have included this dark spot for no reason, but what the reason was I cannot guess.
The three men (and probably the woman as well, judging from the position of her head) all appear to have their gazes fixed on the rust-covered bell buoy which rolls on the next swell, a few feet from the port side of the boat. It leans toward the passing vessel, and from the position of it we can surmise that the bell has just struck. Despite the clear indications of motion, the heeling boat and warning buoy, the swelling sea, the straining tiller man, the scene seems as static as one of the artist's rows of silent, brick buildings walling a deserted city street, or one of his squat New England light houses. There is that characteristic Hopper sense that something is happening, and that the moment of occurrence, or of realization, has briefly been paused. Everything is still, but about to come back to life.
Although the boat takes up a great deal of the painting, and even extends beyond it a bit, the seascape nevertheless makes it seem small. And the boat is small, the figures aboard it seeming almost too much for it to carry. Beyond the frothy line of swells, the dark blue of the sea stretches to the horizon which is crowded with clouds. Nearer, the sky is clear except for the feathery white wisps of a row of cirrus. The effect of that blue vastness on the foreground objects has always fascinated me. The boat, the buoy, the figures, all arrest the eye briefly, but the gaze is inevitably drawn to that immensity beyond them, yet the figures in the painting seem not to notice it. Perhaps the mystery figure, if it is a person at all, is looking at the horizon while the others gaze at the buoy. I suppose I'll never know.
I would dearly love to see the original painting, though I'm not even sure what museum has it, or if it is in some private collection. Maybe its full glory would reveal something that I cannot see in this small digital copy. Maybe someday.
For now, I am here in this place, in this night so cold and clear that it seems it might be shattered like glass.