It features a scene from rural America. The man and woman are presumably a couple but as ever, Hopper highlights the fact that they at not engaging with each other. The woman appears lost in her own thoughts, her arms are crossed but the viewer is unsure whether she is cold or feeling defensive. The man sits on the porch trying to attract the dog's attention but the dog is looking elsewhere. The dog is still, poised with its ears pricked, listening to something. The scene is atmospheric for other reasons too. The house appears neat and tidy but the long prairie grass is blowing in the wind. The scene suggests Autumn but Hopper has deliberately used a dark blue/green colour and an evergreen tree. The bright white of the house contrasts starkly against the dark tree, giving the viewer just a hint of discontent or even menace as evening approaches.
The artist spent hours preparing for his paintings. Cape Cod Evening was no exception. He made numerous sketches in preparation around Truro, a fishing village in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and took "mental impressions of things in the vicinity". Hopper's idea for the woman was a "Finnish" type with blonde hair and a strong jaw, like he had seen in the area. He chose to portray a "Yankee" for the man. The doorway of the house was pieced from one he had seen in Orleans. The prairie grass, he saw from his studio window. He also described the evening sounds that he heard, and depicted this through the dog. Perhaps the dog was listening to the nocturnal Whip-poor-will bird. According to Hopper's wife, Whippoorwill was going to be the original title for this piece. Cape Cod Evening is a wonderful representation of man and nature. A piece of American life as seen by Edward Hopper, and you can see similar within a related painting that followed on several years later, known as Cape Cod Morning.
The artist would describe how this painting is actually a selection of different items from real life that he has fused together in order to create this composition. He spent a good amount of time in this region, and found it suitable for his atmospheric style of art. He adored the architectural style of this location, with white board panelling covering the walls of houses here. In this case, he adds a stripe of red which skirts the bottom of the construction in order to add a little visual interest and also provide a clear boundary between the house and the yellow grass which spreads across the rest of the painting. A dog sprints around in the foreground, excited by the open space and perhaps the movement of the grass in the wind. In the far background is a dense forest which covers the upper half of the painting.
"...It is no transcription of a place, but pieced together from sketches and mental impressions of things in the vicinity. The dry, blowing grass can be seen from my studio window in the late summer or autumn. In the woman I attempted to get the broad, strong-jawed face and blond hair of a Finnish type of which there are many on the Cape. The man is a dark-haired Yankee. The dog is listening to something, probably a whippoorwill or some evening sound..."
Several studies of this painting have made suggestions around the symbolism found within the artwork. Edward Hopper would sometimes make comments on modern American society in subtle ways within his work and in the example of Cape Cod Evening, some have claimed that he is discussing the theme of dysfunctional relationships in how the couple are visually apart. The woman's body language is also particularly defensive, standing with her arms crossed and seemingly disinterested in her partner. Others have concluded that the real separation is between the couple and the natural surroundings, giving a comment on the disconnect between man and nature that now exists within American society. Most of his paintings are bereft of much detail and this makes his statements clearer to the viewer, although he would not always tell us directly about these different meanings when discussing his own paintings. In terms of isolation and a disconnect, we can see similar within two other paintings, namely Nighthawks and Gas.
The artist produced a number of study drawings in preparation for this painting, and some of these have survived to the present day. Although there is relatively little detail within the final artwork, Hopper would have to have practiced the different angles of the building prior to starting it. He would have considered the lighting as well, with the figures themselves then being added later. The dog, too, could easily have been an after thought that would have been easy to append onto the rest of the scene. The building structure, however, was entirely critical to the whole piece and also would have been impossible to alter significantly once the main piece was in progress. Some drawings left from this artist's career actually possess more detail than the resultant work in oils, and he also loved to work with watercolours as well as some points of his career.
This painting can be found at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, USA. It is a key gallery which owns some of the most culturally-significant art within the country and continues to expand its collection each and every year. They have built up their display through a combination of private donations and also some acquisitions. The National Gallery of Art have around 16 artworks from Hopper's career alone, including a variety of mediums such as paintings, drawings and etchings. Haskell's House and Ground Swell are two other famous pieces to be found here, and the three together give a great understanding to visitors as to the typical style and content used by this artist. Besides these artworks, you can also find some other highly memorable paintings from other great names, including the likes of The Voyage of Life: Youth by Thomas Cole, Ginevra de' Benci by Leonardo da Vinci, The House of Cards by Jean Siméon Chardin and Girl with the Red Hat by Johannes Vermeer. They also have a sculpture garden that features a mosaic mural by Marc Chagall titled Orphée as well as Personnage Gothique, Oiseau-Eclair (Gothic Personage, Bird-Flash) by Joan Miro.