Hotel Room, 1931


Arthur Brisbane in 1911 came up with the phrase that ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ A painting on canvas is a common type of fine art that has been used from ancient times due to several factors like durability and texture. The painting on canvas “Hotel Room, 1931” is one among many of Edward Hoppers brilliant master pieces that attract interest, most especially with focus on “the woman” in the painting. Analyzing this painting would help in appreciating the in-depth understanding of the art piece. Using the six ethical perspectives namely, personal, cultural, critical, ethical, historical and technical to analyze a picture or image will be much easier to understand the actual meaning and emotions hidden therein.

The American legend painter Edward Hopper was born on 22 July 1882 in Nyack, New York. He started painting at an early age of 15. From 1900 to 1906, he studied communication illustration at the New York School of Art after which he travelled out to study art in Europe though he spent much of his time in Paris. Hopper returned to New York as a commercial artist in 1908. He later became popular as an American scene painter, often portraying the loneliness of the American city life. From the 1920s to 1950s Hoppers’ art was displayed in several art shows on several public places in America. His art paintings were and still are a reference point for many American painters due to their ability to evoke the emotions of poetry, loneliness, sadness, emptiness, and depictions of the American environment. Hopper died in 1967 in New York. This essay will analyze the oil painting on canvas “Hotel Room 1931”.

Personal Perspective

Frozen time, when things don’t seem to be moving forward or backward, they are just there in a dilemma, this is the feeling which I get from the first glance at the painting “Hotel Room 1931”. Judging from the woman who seem to been captivated by the book she is reading, she forms the Centre of Interest and the expression of a conflicting scenarios. To me, she might be half way dressed or half way undressed. She seems to have just arrived at the same time it looks like she is about to leave. The colors Hopper uses in the painting are somehow dull and gloomy, might have been the shade. Sometimes a white color can be an expression of emptiness, like an empty room or a monotonous feeling of emptiness. The white background that seems to be a window, would have given a totally different meaning if the woman in the painting was facing the window or looking outside. The concentration on the book/paper could be a reflection that the scenario outside is rather unpleasant, or something concerning her must have really gone bad.

Larry Levis 2010, give his personal perspective about the painting appearance to be about a person in transit (and transition) at a historical moment when many Americans were forced to abandon everything they had ever known (for example the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”). He notes that beyond this sketch, the meaning of Hopper’s painting remains ambiguous and mysterious. “I believe we all find paintings and create for them our own stories. Yet, we are paintings ourselves” (Jane Odartey)

Historical Perspective

Hoppers photos were more or less scripts of history in form of oil paintings. They interpreted a specific period in time guided by the theme Hopper used in the different painting.  Normally, an oil painting can describe either the time it was painted or the context which it intended to express. The title of the painting gives the first impression of what period of history this specific painting was done. I also understand it must have been painted a decade ago judging from the use of colors and the antique feel. Edward hopper did most his painting under the theme of depression. Relating this to the “Hotel Room 1931”, Hopper expresses an on going scenario in America of the Great Depression and the viewers should relate to the painting through the prism of the this historical background. Some of this emotions displayed are certainly frustration, sadness and aloneness which gives the expression of depression in the painting. I would agree that according to the historical perspective, “Hotel Room 1931” displays expertly what the Edward Hopper intended in his the theme. As pointed earlier under the personal perspective the Levis comments that it was at a historical moment when many Americans were forced to abandon everything they had ever known, therefore for sure “Hotel Room 1931” is a dull painting which was aimed to describe that moment in history.

Cultural perspective

Culture is what defines a community or a society or a group of people. The cultural perspective in this case can be noted from a critical look on the people (including the dress code and the physical appearance), and the building. “Hotel Room 1931” painting represents an American culture where the usage of a young woman to wear attractive clothes was in fashion at that time.  Matthew Sidney Jones on a Public Blog comments on Levis poem that “in the painting, the woman is hardly different from the furniture”.  Although this comment was made to answer the question ‘who the woman in the painting was’ I would like to point out that this statement reflect the antique nature of the images in painting, that was a common culture and a type of unique use of color and shades in historical America art. Culture is a way of life and judging from the expression of the woman in “Hotel Room 1931” I learnt how big or wide the gap between the rich and the poor was. The woman seemed to be from a rich class who could afford a hotel room in the midst of the Great Depression. In such a situation, I would expect images of people in a rather devastating surrounding, but not a hotel room.

Ethical Perspective

Ethical perspective holds six more critical and in-depth perspective mostly used by the modern artists in understanding ancient painting and integrating them in their art works. The six perceptives are known as the Hedonism, Categorical Imperative, the golden rule, the golden mean, the veil of ignorance and the Utilitarianism. “The golden rule, or the ethic of reciprocity, teaches people to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Lester, 2006). In order to be able to discern the feeling and emotions the youth woman is undergoing Hotel Room 1931” at this particular point in time we would have to “get into her shoes”. According to the Hedonism ethical perspective pleasure and appreciation should be derived at the ‘first glance’ at a picture. Pleasure in this case can only be a rational and personal appreciation of the artistic touch and ability to bring out the contexts of unhappiness on the canvas. The Golden Mean also known as the golden ration or the golden section. According to Lester, (2006) the Golden Mean philosophy or perspective referred to finding a middle ground or a compromise between two extreme points of view and actions. The middle ground is similar to establishing “the center of interest” or a focal point to which the artist wants to draw the viewer’s attention. Here the artist focuses on creating a middle ground that interprets the real scenario. 

In this regard, the oil painting on canvas “Hotel Room 1931”we see Hoppers endeavoring to express the Great Depression. The categorical imperative is an ethical philosophy that can be used to understand motivation behind any action. Through a categorical imperative analysis the feeling of consistency can be seen in the oil painting. Hopper chooses to dedicate most of his painting towards reflecting the Great Depression hence his intention was also to feature the feeling of depression and loneness in the “Hotel Room 1931”. Utilitarianism is also an ethical perspective that focuses on the consequences that significant actions have on the well being of all viewers directly or indirectly. Hopper does apply this perspective of utilitarianism in his painting. He doesn’t shy away from expressing the true striking and saddening feeling throughout his paintings. In the review on “Note on utilitarianism”, Charles D. Kay (1997) wrote that “Actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number”. Analyzing the oil painting on canvas “Hotel Room 1931”from a veil of ignorance perspective, I appreciated the painting  by with holding all judgment in the form of personal perception and diverse perspectives and only considering the culture and theme expressed by images

Technical Perspective

This is a rather a modern and recent analytical perspective. The technical perspective takes into consideration materials used in Hopper’s paintings, describing how he did his painting, the quality of the painting he produced, and the various techniques he used while painting,  the ability to assess the materials used when painting “Hotel Room 1931”. Here he used canvas and oil paints which were similar to many other painting Hopper did from 1920s to 1950s. “After research, it turns out that Hopper’s wife Josephine Nivinson did in fact pose for this picture in Washington Square Studio” (Alarcó). The use of canvas and oil painting ensures durability of Hoppers art painting. Oil paints enhance pictures durability, hence his art is still valuable and treasured in the current art galleries. On the other hand, techniques Hopper used were clearly evident in his painting, he did use a lot of lines in bringing out shapes and objects so as to portray the theme.  He also used shadows to emphasise on the emotions brought about by the Great Depression. Hopper was imaginative and an abstract painter and used this technique to communicate messages over his painting, and to my view, he did express the Great Depression that occurred in America from 1929-1939 successfully.

Critical Perspective

The critical perspective like the word ‘critique’ is the in-depth analysis of the painting which considers personal perception or the first impression a viewer gets from looking at a painting. This is a detail assessment of any forms, objects, textures, colors, images, and shades, or hidden gestures, messages or information therein.  It would also help a lot to understand the artist, his style and themes to which he chose to paint, and mostly his personal way of life. Hopper was a unique artist and his academic background in illustration communication carries on in this painting. He worked hard to communicate a scenario in “Hotel Room 1931”. Through this Alarcó sees “a paper without words, a woman without friends, and a room without decoration: loneliness. She sees a woman alone on a bed, suitcases that have not been unpacked, and a face full of emotion: emptiness”.  Edward Hopper was a realist, and he often painted pictures emphasizing human figures and emotions in particular environments. The young woman seems to be rather wealthy judging from the dress code, the high heeled shoes on the floor, a back hat on the right side corner, the dark brown leather bags and a hotel room itself must have been for the people of the upper class.  The woman must have been from a rich family and maybe she lost everything and this brought the state of loneness she is in. The point is that this would not be visible with the ‘first look’ therefore it’s through this Critical Perspective that I can clearly see the relation between the woman, the hotel room and the Great Depression taking a toll on her.


These six basic principal perspectives to which a photo or picture can be analyzed have been used by artists, academician, critics and great philosophers of all times and currently they remain the most effective perspectives to use.  Key lessons I have learnt form the perspectives is the need for deeper understanding of any painting which prompts viewers to ‘take a second look’ at any picture and discover the hidden contexts. After viewing Edward hopper’s painting “Hotel Room 1931” with relation to this perspectives, I discovered that in order to relate to the painting I need more than just a glance. I would propose the ethical perspective that’s more advanced and in-depth in analysis for a professional artist or academician. I need to study each and every particular image and expression critically concentrating on the color, line, position, shades, lights, and object as independent aspects of the total image. These perspectives are artistic in nature hence there is a need for an artistic eye. 

I discovered the hidden motives and the expression of feelings in applying shadow and light effects like on the face of the woman sitting on the bed. Hopper strives to keep the viewers in an open minded situation where you can change you perception on the paint through the change of position or the change in focused object. Through James Peacock’s analysis in comparison of different pieces of work by Hopper, I discovered that the consistence is crystal clear. His intention to express sadness and frustration, emotions of loneliness brought about by the Great Depression were discernible. Though this, I finally appreciated the deeper Art in Hopper’s painting.

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