If You Like Edward Hopper, You'll Love Anita Malfatti

What do we see when we see a landscape? These two artists had very different answers.

By Google Arts & Culture

Hill and Houses, Cape Elizabeth, Maine (1927) by Edward HopperMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

Edward Hopper might be known best for his 1942 painting Nighthawks, but his understated images of the American east coast remain some of his most intriguing works.

Hopper grew up in the area of Nyack, New York, in the late 19th Century. He knew the distinctive architecture of these coastal villages well: their whitewashed boards, their verandas, and the ubiquitous lighthouses - built to warn boats away from dangerous shores.

Hopper's realism was popular at the time - and remains so. Contemporaries of Hopper, such as Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, sought to move away from European modernism and develop a home-grown North American aesthetic.

At first, this painting, made in 1927, appears to be a simple rural landscape. But something seems a little… odd.

The day is bright, yet the sun hasn't brought out any people. Instead, the looming hill casts shadows across the exposed landscape.

The windows and doors are shut. There's nothing to reveal anything of the people who live here.

And where is the sea? Looking inland, it leaves us wondering whether we're arriving or leaving this desolate scene.

It's said that Hopper painted lighthouses as he saw himself: tall and stiff, practical, but isolated and often lonely. Here, the lighthouse looms over everything else in the scene, drawing attention towards it, even as it remains in the background.

The Lighthouse (1915) by Anita MalfattiMAM Rio

If landscapes can be self-portraits, what does that say about the Brazilian artist Anita Malfatti?

Malfatti was a contemporary of Hopper. Born in 1889 in São Paulo, she was among the first artists to introduce modernist aesthetics to her South American homeland.

Mafaltti painted this simple scene in 1915, at the age of 26, around the time she was studying in New York under the American painter and printmaker, Homer Boss. This painting, made nearly a decade before Hopper's, depicts a similar subject in a radically different style.

Mafaltti's lighthouse scene appears to be closer to the European avant garde of the era: the more radical impressionists, Camille Pissaro or Paul Cézanne, or painters who came after them, such as Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and André Derain.

This resemblance isn't just a coincidence. In fact, Malfatti had been introduced to modern European art during a brief stay in Germany, where she attended the 1912 Sonderbund exhibition. This exhibition brought together those artists as well as others including Munch and Signac.

This painting, made on her return to the Americas, with its simple, almost childlike depiction of the buildings and tower, its fat, slippy brushstrokes, and only the most rudimentary rendering of perspective, is undoubtedly inspired by those artists' works.

The cloudy skies contain pink and yellow and pale mint green. The thick rolls of cloud resemble the tumbling hills and greenery of the land.

Like Hopper's painting, this is an unusual picture. But it's a brighter, more lively take on the subject when compared to Hopper. It seems to revel in light and life, rather than closing the door and drawing the curtains.

The Student (1915 - 1916) by Anita MalfattiMASP - Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

As an early modernist, and as a woman, Mafaltti would go on to become one of Brazil's most famous and influential artists.

Throughout her life she continued to develop her style, even as younger artists such as Tarsila do Amaral came on to the scene, looking to create uniquely Brazilian art.

Still, when Malfatti died in 1964 she was commemorated as having introduced modern art to the country. Today, many Brazilian artists trace their work back to her.

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