Although he was always hostile to the development of abstract painting, Edward Hopper's art gives forth a distinctly modern feeling. In 1967, shortly after Hopper's death, James Thrall Soby commented that many of his (Soby's) friends among the Abstract Expressionist painters genuinely admired Hopper's work. "It always astonished me," Soby noted, "that these young artists exempted the late Edward Hopper from their acrimony against the realist tradition." In fact, the mood of loneliness and alienation in Hopper's paintings harmonizes well with the existentialist philosophies of this century, while his compositions always went beyond mere realistic transcription to establish patterns and relationships of abstract form.
Hopper achieved success in watercolor at a time when his oil paintings were still being rejected from exhibitions. He took up the medium in 1923, not having used it seriously since his student days, except in his commercial work, and made a large group of watercolors of old buildings and lighthouses in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and in Portland and Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Late in 1923 The Brooklyn Museum purchased his House with Mansard Roof, the first painting he had sold since the Armory Show. In the following year he was taken up by the New York dealer Frank Rehn, who sold every watercolor on the wall, and five more as well, from the first show he put on of Hopper's work.
In the fall of 1925 and spring of 1926, Edward Hopper painted a few watercolors of New York City. Among these were views from his rooftop that offered a dissected view of buildings with a bridge or road in the foreground. Most often, it is impossible to identify the building, as the juxtaposition of architecture and infrastructure was of interest to Hopper, rather than the exact location.
Here, Hopper could not have chosen a more inauspicious subject-a view of the smokestacks on the roof of 3 Washington Square North, the building where his New York studio was located. The vertical rhythm of the chimneys and the bright mid-day sun gave the artist an opportunity to paint both light and color. His color choices are unusual—deep blue, pink, and rust-red—hardly the colors of an industrial gray New York rooftop!