Blackwell Island is a 1928 painting by Edward Hopper - (1882-1967). The painting offers a view of present Roosevelt Island in Manhattan East River. It measures 34-1/2 inches by 59-1/2 inches. It depicts Roosevelt island before much of the skyline was changed with modern buildings. Only a few structures stand today of what is portrayed in the painting.
The painting features extensive area of the blue sky above the cobalt blue water below and divided by a shadowed menacing skyline of building all along the islands water front. In typical Hopper style, there is a distance between the viewer and the remote architectural subjects. There is no humanity in the picture except for a single figure cruising away in a boat from the viewer towards the right-hand edge of the frame.
The picture embodies the best of his work at the height of his powers. He painted a complex set of architectural design with maximum lighting and shadow. The painting has few people hence no drama of the past crashing with the present, no chance of the historic architecture crashing with the present architecture. Hooper portrayed solitude or isolation in his paintings. He was predominantly interested in capturing the older disappearing architecture. Water was also a major theme in his compositional work and more so Blackwell Island brings out all these elements in a great and huge painting.
Hooper used oil on canvas as a medium to paint the picture, traditional oil painting used charcoal or thinned paint. Oil paints mixed with linseed oil or other solvents made the paint thinner. The painting used several layers of paint. Every layer of paint used on the Blackwell Island was thicker than the layer before – ‘fat over lean’. There is evidence of brush strokes plus other methods. Oil becomes easier to remove before it dries thus it’s possible that Hooper removed painting on purpose to change the texture.
Hooper preferred landscapes, lighthouses, farmhouses and sail boats as his painting inspiration. No wonder he chose to paint Sailing – 1911 painting among other works. He was fascinated by urban architecture and cityscapes, Paintings like the Williamsburg Bridge 1928 depicts this infatuation. Others include Lighthouse at Two Lights 1929 where hopper isolates the silhouette of a lighthouse against the expanse of the sky above.