The Unique Use of Light in Edward Hopper’s Paintings

Why luminescence means more than illumination

Christopher P Jones
6 min readSep 5, 2023


Morning Sun (1952) by Edward Hopper. Oil on canvas. 101.98 × 71.5 cm. Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, U.S. Image source WikiArt

One of my favourite possessions is a stack of Edward Hopper postcards, each with a painting on the front. I look through them often. Some of the postcards I’ve pinned to the wall above my desk; others I use as bookmarks. They’re around me constantly.

One aspect of Hopper’s art that I’m always trying to understand better — to see better — is how he used light.

Few artists gave light such metaphorical significance as Hopper did. Light in his paintings tends to testify to a personal transformation.

Or more precisely, the way his characters bathe themselves in the long, low light of the morning or evening sun, seems to indicate a longing for transformation.

Underlying this urge seems to sit a plethora of mental states and conflicted emotions. Unfulfilled dreams that still insist on being heard, hopes that have been thwarted by the smothering effects of society or maybe at the hands of a lover or someone else close. Yet, among the introspection, there is also the hope for change.

In a painting like Morning Sun (1952), light occupies a distinct rectangle on the bedroom wall. It is no coincidence that, compositionally speaking, the right edge of the rectangle…