New York Movie, 1939 by Edward Hopper

A movie theater in New York, one of those elaborate mock palaces where Hollywood spirits us for a few hours into another world - in this case apparently the high mountains. Spirits us as audience, that is, but not the usher, who has probably seen the movie a thousand times and waits for the curtain, mulling over her own thoughts. Her stationary figure counterpoints the screen with its incessantly flickering illusions of places not here and not now.

Like most of the female figures in Hopper's paintings, this one was based on his wife, Jo, who posed standing under a lamp in the hall of their apartment. As the many preliminary studies for the picture show, Hopper not only drew his wife in various different poses for New York Movie, but precisely designed the auditorium decor, down to the pattern of the carpet. Again and again he sketched the foyers, stairways, and auditoriums of his favorite movie houses, the Palace, Globe, Republic, and Strand.

The entire painting is concerned with leavetaking, with seeming to be sated with a wealth of illusions that includes the film and the building, and with allowing this artificial world to lull one into thinking that life is not alienating and that the modern world is wonderful because it provides larger-than-life experiences in the theater. The usherette who is caught up in her own daydreams and the isolated spectators, however, point up the hollowness of this sumptuous and action-filled world. The usherette is a twentieth-century counterpart to the bored waitress in A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres of Edouard Manet. Similar to Manet, Hopper has a genius for making the illusory world of the theater so enticing, so glamorous, and so completely empty. He tantalizes his assumed viewer with an almost mystical apricot light that illuminates the steps that lead out of this unreal world where the usherette stands guard.