Sektion 5: Provenienzen der Dinge. Zur Rezeption von Objektbiografien
Samstag, 30. März 2019, 11:45–12:15 Uhr, ZHG, Hörsaal 105
Gail Levin, New York

Edward Hopper's Canvas, "City Roofs", and the Absence of Provenance

Edward Hopper’s canvas, City Roofs (1932), exemplifies “the indivisible interdependence of the object and its history of ownership”. It is the only oil from Hopper’s maturity with a provenance that Lawrence Fleischman, of Kennedy Galleries in New York, chose to conceal in a catalogue and show at his gallery in 1976, 9 years after Hopper’s death. He gave no provenance for any object due to efforts to launder art stolen from the estate, all of which had been bequeathed to the Whitney Museum by his widow, Jo. The thief, a Baptist preacher, who lived near the Hopper family home, where Edward’s only sibling died in 1965, not long before her brother, bragged in a recorded interview that he had had the key to the house. He claimed that City Roofs was a gift from Jo, who listed it in the record books that she kept whenever one of Edward’s works left the studio for exhibition, sale, or the rare gift. Her note for this work is clear even in the facsimile of selected pages from the record books the Whitney published: “Here in Studio.” Had she given the preacher this canvas as he claimed, she would have said so, lest someone think the work pilfered. Despite the note’s visibility, Deborah Lyons, who transcribed the record book entries for my catalogue raisonné of Hopper, omitted it (or someone else at the Whitney removed it before publication). In her will, Jo left all of Edward’s art to the Whitney. Even in the 1960s, one of Edward’s canvases would have been well worth recording; in today’s value, it’s worth millions of dollars.
My publishing this provenance has affected this object’s material as well as its non-material value. I document how my researching and publicizing the work’s problematic history of ownership caused the current owner to make it a promised gift to the Whitney, which was its original destination in Jo’s will, before the preacher interfered. My 2006 essay in Ethics and the Visual Arts showed how this picture lacked “clear title”, since there was no record of its official transfer to the preacher. Thus, its owner, a private collector, decided to make it a promised gift.
No written proofs establish “rightful ownership” of City Roofs; nothing explains how this or any of the preacher’s 80 paintings and 100’s of drawings came into his possession. The Whitney recently announced a gift from the late preacher’s family of some 4,000 items from the Hoppers’ papers. Untold is why these documents were sequestered for 50 years after Edward’s death.
Kurzbiografie Gail Levin
1969/1970B.A. (honors program) / M.A. (fine arts)
1976Ph.D. in art history, Rutgers University, New Jersey
1976–1984Curator of the Hopper Collection, Whitney Museum of American Art
1985–1986Drexel Fellow, College of Design, Drexel University, Philadelphia
1986–2008Professor of Art History, Baruch College & Graduate School of the City University of New York
since 2008Distinguished Professor of Art History, Baruch College and the Graduate School of the City University of New York, Art History, American Studies, Women's Studies, Fine & Performing Arts, Liberal Studies
Forschungs- bzw. Arbeitsschwerpunkte 20th century American art; global modern & contemporary art; ethics & art market
  • Edward Hopper: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York/London 1995, München 1995.
  • Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York 1995 (2. Aufl. 2007) (dt.: Edward Hopper. Ein Intimes Porträt, München 1998).
  • (Hg. mit Elaine A. King) Ethics and the Visual Arts, New York 2006.
  • Becoming Judy Chicago: A Biography of the Artist, New York 2007.
  • Lee Krasner: A Biography, New York 2011.