Edward Hopper was born July 22 in Upper Nyack, New York. As a high school student he considered a career as a naval architect, however upon completing his high school education he became intent on a career in art. At the urging of his family Hopper would study illustration enrolling in The New York School of Illustrating. Hopper would later transfer to The New York School of Art, where William Merritt Chase was the chief instructor. In October of 1906, Hopper traveled to Paris like so many others. In 1913 he sold his first piece of art, and his career slowly began to take off. Hopper’s first solo show was in 1920 followed by a second four years later at the Rehn Gallery which was a complete sell-out. Hopper gained fame for his paintings of American life. He died in 1967 at the age of 84.
Despite being firmly established, stylistically, in the Urban Realism of the 20th Century Hopper dedicated much of his free time to the study of Mathew Brady’s Civil War photography and walking the battlefields of Gettysburg. Hopper brought this pastime into his professional world by painting two historical works, both of the battle at Gettysburg. In Dawn Before Gettysburg, painted in 1934, Hopper reflects on the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Almost one third of the participating soldiers, fifty-one thousand men, lost their lives. In Hopper’s image the viewer is spared the violent aspect of a bloody scene, however he/she cannot escape the haunting truth of the many conflicting sensations experienced by these beleaguered combatants -there is stillness in the air as the sunrises in the sky. Having marched all night to reach Gettysburg nine soldiers are seated on a grassy bank in front of a white house trimmed in blue with a white picket fence. The tenth soldier, presumably their commander, stands looking off into the distance. Each man passing this brief respite before the command is given to bring them out of their individual thoughts or physical anguish into a single unit poised to inflict their will upon the enemy.