Today I present a mystery. I wish I could solve it myself, but it’s out of my area of expertise. I hope that one of you knows someone who knows someone who can speak definitively on the subject.
Russel Whitten is a talented young watercolor painter. In the short time I’ve known him, he’s become one of my favorite artists in the Maine plein air scene. At this year’s Art in the Park, we took a break together outside the Ocean Park Soda Fountain. He showed me a photo of a picture he acquired at an antique shop several years ago.
Russ believes it’s an Edward Hopper watercolor. He has studied Hopper’s watercolors extensively and is convinced he’s right. Since Russ is a watercolorist himself, he thinks deeply about painting technique and style within his own medium.
Although he was best known as an oil painter, Hopper first achieved success as a watercolorist, a medium he never abandoned. He produced many, many watercolor paintings, including studies of working boats such as trawlers, freighters and tugboats.
When art historians determine who painted something, it’s called “attribution,” and it’s by no means an exact science. How certain they can be depends on style, documentary evidence and scientific experimentation.
I did a quick perusal of Hopper’s Gloucester and Maine watercolors. Sometimes he signed them; sometimes he didn’t. (Russ’ painting is initialed and dated.) Sometimes his drawing was exceptionally accurate; at other times it was whimsical. (Hopper had a great capacity for narrative and whimsy.) I’m not an art historian, and the image Russ sent me is very low resolution, but the color palette and the brushwork seem appropriate for the time, and possible for the artist.
I’m writing this from the airport at Toronto, Ontario. In this noise and chaos, it’s almost impossible to research anything intelligently, so I’m leaving it up to you.
So while I’m hiking around Iona tomorrow, you can scratch your head over this. If you know anyone whose specialty is Hopper, forward this to them and see what they say. Even better, look up some Hoppers yourself and try to make an informed guess. After all, art history is for everyone.