September 13, 2011

Bargain Post Office art

"The Long Leg," Edward Hopper, 1935

SHE WHO MUST BE OBEYED returned from the post office the other day with some rather nice pictures of a sailboat. Twenty pictures, actually, at a cost of 44 cents each.

The panel of postage stamps was captioned “American Treasures, Edward Hopper” and each stamp showed a painting of a small gaff-rigged sloop sailing full and by, parallel to a sandy coastline with a squat lighthouse and adjacent buildings in the background.

I didn’t realize that Edward Hopper had painted pictures of sailboats. He is best known for his bleak cityscapes and landscapes, his very realistic portrayal of the loneliness of individual human beings and indeed their hopelessness, particularly during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Nevertheless, he must have known something about sailing, because this painting, done in 1935, is titled “The Long Leg,” which would be unintelligible to a landlubber, considering that sailboats don’t have legs (as landlubbers know them). In high school, Hopper dreamed of being a naval architect, and in fact he later became an enthusiastic amateur sailor.

I don’t know what possessed the Post Office to issue this stamp at this time. Perhaps the mood of the country is similar to that of the Great Depression, or at least headed that way. While it does express the isolation of a small vessel at sea, it better articulates the independence concomitant with sailing.

Frankly, this painting doesn’t disturb me or fill me with melancholy and dismay, as much of Hopper’s work was meant to do. Here we have two man-made objects near Provincetown, Mass., the lighthouse strongly angular, the sailboat, by contrast, full of soft curves and grace. The breeze seems just right, the water is calm, the sun is shining. There is peace here, as well as order, enjoyment, and hope. This is Hopper at his most optimistic. How was he to know that the world’s most dreadful war was just four years away?

Today’s Thought
The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, the pessimist fears this is true.
— James Branch Cabell

“What would you be after having there in that bag, O’Flaherty?”
“How many?”
“I’m not saying.”
“Well then I’ll guess how many — and you can give me a prize if I’m right.”
“I don’t have a prize. But I tell you what — if you get it right you can have both of them.”

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

and.. what sort of boat is it? a knockabout sloop, apparently.