Edward Hopper's work has made him one of the most respected American painters of the twentieth century. His stark depictions of isolated buildings, silent interiors, and empty streets show both a desire to record the details of ordinary life and a Modernist's appreciation for the power of abstract form. His work is distinguished by its structural clarity and subtle psychological edge.
This deceptively simple view of a shed, barn, and house in South Truro, Massachusetts, acts powerfully on the emotions. At first, the bright sunshine, brilliant colors, and pastoral setting evoke the celebratory New England landscapes painted by preceding generations of American Realists and Impressionists. The painting recalls hot, clear summer afternoons and the exhilarating expanses of sky and land found along the rugged New England coast. In this respect, Hopper's work resembles that of the American landscape painters Winslow Homer and Childe Hassam.
However, it is impossible to find in Cape Cod Afternoon the heroic optimism of nineteenth-century artists. The afternoon shadows are lengthening, the shed is crumbling, the house is shuttered, and the grass and trees are turning brown. While the wedge shaped diagonals of the composition seem to invite entry into the pictorial space, a jumble of walls and the blanked-out windows and doors block any such entry. All of these elements suggest decay and abandonment, even disappointed hope.
Hopper painted Cape Cod Afternoon in 1936, during the Great Depression in America and the beginnings of war in Europe. In the end, the grimness of the decade and the artist's personal sense of solitude and detachment prevail, leaving the viewer with that sense of alienated melancholy so characteristic of Hopper's work.
—From The Carnegie Museum of Art Collection Highlights, text by Louise Lippincott, 1995