Edward Hopper’s Valley of the Seine, an oil on canvas, was painted during his second trip to Paris in 1909. His first trip in 1906/7 had resulted in such paintings as Bridge in Paris, Le Pont des Arts and Apres-midi de Juin. A comparison would perhaps show that these earlier paintings bear witness to Hopper’s work as an illustrator, only recently abandoned. He focuses on the detail of Paris – the dark space under a bridge, one of the stanchions supporting another, the corner of a building facing Le Pont Royal. They are the works of a student with a small eye. Of course he had only recently finished attending classes at the New York School of Art. He had begun at Art School to appreciate the works of Edouard Manet and Claude Monet both of whom engendered in him a recognition of what could be achieved by the use of light. For a while in Paris he tried to employ the lighter palette of the impressionists before reverting back to his own naturally darker colours.
Two years later he exhibits a tendency to look at the big picture. He withdraws and gazes out over a landscape which while dominated by the white arches of the aqueduct looks much further towards a distant horizon. While the earlier paintings were static and had much in common with a still life, in Valley of the Seine he discovered movement. There is a train on the aqueduct, a figure punts down the river and even the waves lap against the cliff base.
Strangely enough for someone who has concentrated on capturing Parisian landmarks his buildings seem almost two dimensional in Valley of the Seine. It is the natural landscape which has a sense of depth and volume and appears more realistic. The scatter of houses at the foot of the aqueduct hearken more to his first love of impressionism.
The only influence that he confessed to having in Paris and indeed in Europe was Charles Meryon. Although Meryon was no painter, his engravings of the Parisian landscape captured the moody realism which Hopper tried to emulate.
The painting is currently housed at the Whitney Museum of American Art where it forms part of an extensive collection of Hopper’s works.