Discover the Artist Who Mentored Edward Hopper & Inspired “Nighthawks”

Every good teacher must be pre­pared for the stu­dents who sur­pass them. Such was the case with Mar­tin Lewis, Edward Hop­per’s one­time teacher, an Aus­tralian-born print­mak­er who left rur­al Vic­to­ria at age 15 and trav­eled the world before set­tling in New York City in 1900 to make his fame and for­tune. By the 1910s, Lewis had become a com­mer­cial­ly suc­cess­ful illus­tra­tor, well-known for his etch­ing skill. It was then that he took on Hop­per as an appren­tice.

“Hop­per asked that he might study along­side him,” writes DC Pae at Review 31, “and Lewis there­after became his men­tor in the dis­ci­pline.” The future painter of Nighthawks even “cit­ed his appren­tice­ship with the print­mak­er as inspi­ra­tion for his lat­er paint­ing, the con­sol­i­da­tion of his indi­vid­ual style.” Messy Nessy quotes Hopper’s own words: “after I took up my etch­ing, my paint­ing seemed to crys­tal­lize.” Hop­per, she writes, “learned the fin­er points of etch­ing and both artists used the great Amer­i­can metrop­o­lis at night as their muse.”

Though he is not pop­u­lar­ly known for the art, Hop­per him­self became an accom­plished print­mak­er, cre­at­ing a series of around 70 works in the 1920s that drew from both Edgar Degas and his etch­ing teacher, Lewis.

“Hop­per eas­i­ly took to etch­ing and dry­point,” writes the Seat­tle Artist League. “He had a pref­er­ence for a deeply etched plate, and very black ink on very white paper, so the prints were high con­trast, sim­i­lar to Mar­tin Lewis…, Hopper’s pri­ma­ry influ­ence in print­mak­ing.”

A sim­i­lar series by Lewis in the 1920s, which includes the strik­ing prints you see here, shows a far stronger hand in the art, though also, per­haps, some mutu­al influ­ence between the two friends, who exhib­it­ed togeth­er dur­ing the peri­od. But there’s no doubt Lewis’s long shad­ows, for­lorn street-lit cor­ners, and cin­e­mat­ic scenes left their mark on Hopper’s famous lat­er paint­ings.

It was to paint­ing, after the mas­sive pop­u­lar­i­ty of print­mak­ing, that the art world turned when the Depres­sion hit. Lewis found him­self out of date. Hop­per left off etch­ing in 1928 to focus on his pri­ma­ry medi­um. In many ways, Pae points out, Lewis served as a bridge between the doc­u­men­tary Ash­can School and the more psy­cho­log­i­cal real­ism of Hop­per and his con­tem­po­raries. Yet he “died in obscu­ri­ty in 1962, large­ly for­got­ten” notes Messy Nessy (see much more of Lewis’s work there). “His­to­ry chose Edward Hop­per but Mar­tin Lewis was his men­tor,” and a fig­ure well worth cel­e­brat­ing on his own for his tech­ni­cal mas­tery and orig­i­nal­i­ty.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

10 Paint­ings by Edward Hop­per, the Most Cin­e­mat­ic Amer­i­can Painter of All, Turned into Ani­mat­ed GIFs

Sev­en Videos Explain How Edward Hopper’s Paint­ings Expressed Amer­i­can Lone­li­ness and Alien­ation

Edward Hopper’s Icon­ic Paint­ing Nighthawks Explained in a 7‑Minute Video Intro­duc­tion

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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