‘Inertia and desolation’ of Sunday in New York in the 1920s

Like so many paintings by Edward Hopper, “Sunday,” completed in 1926, is shrouded in mystery. Who is this lone man sitting on the curb, and what’s the significance of the row of empty storefronts he’s turned his back on?

The scene may be ambiguous, but the sense of isolation and disconnection conjured by the image will feel familiar for New Yorkers in the 1920s and the 2020s as well.

“Sunday depicts a spare street scene,” explains the Phillips Collection, which owns the painting. “In the foreground, a solitary, middle-aged man sits on a sunlit curb, smoking a cigar. Behind him is a row of old wooden buildings, their darkened and shaded windows suggesting stores, perhaps closed for the weekend or permanently.”

Though it’s impossible to know, this scene might be in Greenwich Village, near where Hopper lived and painted for most of his life on the Washington Square North.

“Oblivious to the viewer’s gaze, the man seems remote and passive,” the Phillips Collection continues. “His relationship to the nearby buildings is uncertain. Who is he? Is he waiting for the stores to open? When will that occur? Sunlight plays across the forms, but curiously, it lacks warmth. Devoid of energy and drama, Sunday is ambiguous in its story but potent in its impression of inertia and desolation.”

“Sunday” shouldn’t be confused with “Early Sunday Morning,” a better-known Hopper painting of a row of two-story buildings thought to be on Bleecker Street. That painting has a similar haunting, solitary feel. The same unbroken line of low-rises he depicts still exist today.

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11 Responses to “‘Inertia and desolation’ of Sunday in New York in the 1920s”

  1. Ty Says:

    Every Sunday this man in his working vest and sleeve garter loses his only purpose for living.

    • James W Says:

      I had a very similar take. I imagined the vacant storefront had once been his and he no longer knows what else to but keep showing up. Perhaps his family knows not of its demise?

  2. Tom Says:

    There were wooden sidewalks in the Village?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yes, all over New York! They were supposed to be quieter than cobblestones and Belgian Blocks, but I believe they deteriorated more quickly, and asphalt replaced all of these paving methods in the early 20th century.

  3. PETER B Says:

    Early Sunday Morning location is subject of some debate but I think recent research establishes it’s location as a portion of Seventh Avenue south that is completely gone now. The portion of Bleecker St just west of Sixth Avenue is similar. I recall a youtube video posted by an art historian that shows where on Seventh Ave South it was.

  4. Elwood Says:

    Tavern owner sitting in front of his business that was closed by prohibition.

  5. ironrailsironweights Says:

    Just to the man’s left a door is open, most likely for the stairway leading to the apartments on the upper floors. My interpretation is that he lives in one of the apartments and is sitting out on the sidewalk for some reason.
    Given the lack of any signage the businesses look empty rather than just closed for the day.


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  8. Ed Sears Says:

    This is fascinating.

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