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When Picasso was outsripped on home turf

A major Edward Hopper retrospective has pulled in more than three-quarters of a million visitors, outstripping even a blockbuster collection of the works of long-time Paris resident Picasso.
In figures that underline the extraordinary popularity of the American realist artist, organizers revealed Monday that a total of 784,269 visitors had come through the doors of the French capital’s Grand Palais in less than four months.
The total narrowly exceeded the numbers drawn to the “Picasso and the Masters” exhibition which was held over an almost identical period in the same venue in 2008-09.
Both exhibitions concluded with round-the-clock opening on their final weekend, with the Hopper collection, which closed Sunday, drawing just under 48,000 people in a last-minute rush that included Jill Biden, wife of visiting US Vice President Joe.
“The total was far, far bigger than we expected. Even in the US, Hopper has never drawn so many people,” the exhibition’s delighted curator, Didier Ottinger, told AFP.
Ottinger said Hopper’s great success in France reflected “the French passion for an America that is not about consumerism, a more thoughtful, subtler and more humane America.”
The most successful Paris exhibition of recent years was a 2010-11 retrospective of the works of Claude Monet, which was seen by 913,064 people.
That Hopper even got close to the French impressionist master was astonishing, according to Fabrice Bousteau, editorial director of Beaux-Arts Magazine.
“Before the exhibition we did a poll of our readers and discovered half of them had not even heard of Hopper,” Bousteau told AFP. “But despite that, some of his images are part of the collective unconscious and that partly explains the phenomenal success.”
Unlike his contemporary Picasso, Hopper had to wait until beyond his 40th birthday to sell his first paintings.
Success and fame had arrived by the time of his death, aged 84, in 1967, but he and Josephine, his wife and muse, still lived in their modest, walk-up flat in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Since his death, Hopper’s reputation has steadily grown and the last decade has seen his appeal broaden to a mass audience, particularly in Europe, where his original works, mostly residing in US collections, were previously rarely seen.
Prior to showing in Paris, most of the works shown here were displayed in Madrid, where 325,000 people turned up.
A 2004 exhibition at London’s Tate Modern drew nearly 430,000 people and remains one of the most successful in that museum’s history.
A collection displayed in Milan and Rome in 2010 also surpassed organizers’ expectations as thousands flocked to get a glimpse of the mastery of light and atmosphere that have made Hopper’s reputation.
Those qualities are depicted most famously in “Nighthawks,” a late-night scene of solitary bar drinkers which has been responsible for establishing “loneliness” as one of the dominant themes of his work — in the popular imagination at least.
Hopper, who was repeatedly afflicted by bouts of depression, once said he thought the association of his paintings with loneliness was overdone.
But he acknowledged that he aspired, through his work, to offer a glimpse into the inner life of his subjects. That may explain why he has become so popular in a period of renewed economic insecurity in the Western world.

“If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint,” he once said in a remark that might sum up another of his most famous works, “Morning Sun,” which depicts a contemplative woman sitting, in a nightdress, on a bed by a window.
Hopper’s many landscapes of the US East Coast, have become equally celebrated and the eroticism, explicit in “Girlie Show” and implicit in “Nighthawks” or “Cape Cod Morning,” of many of his works may also help to explain why he touches so many people.

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