‘New York Movie’ is a 1939 oil on canvas by the American artist Edward Hopper. The painting depicts a young woman standing by the exit of a movie theatre looking on wistfully while in the seats patrons enjoy the movie.
The woman herself is modelled after Hopper’s wife Jo, from the mid 1920s Jo was Hopper’s only model, an artist herself who in 1926/27 produced a water-colour ‘Movie Theatre—Gloucester’ that is said to have sparked her husband’s interest in depicting cinemas.
Hopper’s preliminary sketches show that he drew Jo in various poses under a light in their home. He also took cues from several New York movie house to create the interior spending time on the fixtures and the pattern of the carpet.
The finished work is one that draws in the viewer. The look on the girls face the slight hint of something on the screen, the shadowy patrons and the stirs that can be glimpsed through the curtain.
Is the girl recovering from a break up and the story of the film reminds her of what she has just been through? She knows that while the character on screen will have a happy ending she will not. Or is she an actress whose career has stalled forcing her to take a job as an usherette where she is constantly reminded of the fact that her dreams of stardom are getting further away each day.
Maybe it’s the end of the week and she has seen the program so many times that she is bored of it, or perhaps given the date, 1939, it isn’t the film that has upset her but the newsreel. Like all of Hopper’s works this inspires the imagination.
Having worked in theatre operating lights and sound I know how easy it is to switch off. Daydream, read a book, write up an idea for a blog post. You get to the point where doing your job is second nature so you don’t actually watch the show. In theatre you do have to watch out, an actor can make a mistake or improvise, but in a movie theatre the film is always the same.
Once the picture is on her job is very simple, make sure no one tries to sneak in without a ticket, if someone stands up to leave shine a torch to help them egress the row causing the least amount of disturbance. She knows the film backward so can daydream but still be alert enough to do her job. Hopper has captured this perfectly and invites us to daydream with her, imagine what she is thinking, what the rest of the theatre is like, what film is playing. Inviting us to engage with the painting.
‘New York Movie’ is currently in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art New York but is not currently on display.