Art, Art History, Artists, Who was/is

Who was Josephine Nivison

Josephine Verstille Nivison was an American painter better known as Jo Hopper since she was the wife (and muse) of the painter Edward Hopper, they got married in 1924.

Her father was Eldorado Nivison, a pianist and music teacher, and her mother was Mary Ann Nivison (née McGrath). Later in her life she would say that her father had almost no paternal instincts, and that the family’s existence was always a trouble. Her family moved frequently, although remaining in NYC.

Self-portrait by Jo Nivison

In 1900, Nivison entered in the Normal College of the City of New York (now it is called Hunter College), a free teacher-training school for young women. In 1904 she received a Bachelor of Arts degree and decided to study art as well as try to become an artist. She studied under Robert Henri and Kenneth Hayes Miller.

Jo Nivison began her career as a public school teacher and during the next decade she earned her living by teaching, but she have never abandoned art, remaining in touch with other artists as Robert Henri with whose group of students she travelled to Europe in 1907.

The marriage with Hopper

Nivison first met Edward Hopper, who would be her husband, in art school, and then again in 1914, in Ogunquit, where they were staying in the same boarding house. However, their friendship apparently only began years later. Their relationship became much more closer during the summer of 1923, when they were both living in an art colony in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Nivison and Hopper

They got married in 1924 and remained together until Hopper died in 1967. She was the model for the figures in most of Hopper’s paintings after 1924. He only produced one oil painting of his wife (Jo Painting, 1936). But frequently made watercolours, drawings and caricatures of her.

Throughout her married life she kept extensive diaries that recount her life with Hopper and his creative process. These diaries also reveal that the marriage was troubled: the couple had frequent rows that sometimes escalated into actual fighting. Twenty-two of her diaries are in the collection of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Jo painting by Edward Hopper, 1936

As just after the marriage, Hopper’s career and reputation continued to grow, Nivison’s artistic career waned after the 1920s. Although she participated in a few group exhibitions (the biggest and most important of them was organised by Herman Gulack in 1958 at the Greenwich Gallery), unfortunately there was little positive reaction to her work.

After Hopper’s death in 1967 Jo bequeathed her entire artistic estate (and that of her husband) to the Whitney Museum of American Art.  Although, the museum discarded most of her work and has never shown any of it since her death in 1968; only a few of her works survived and a few more are known from Jo’s photographs.

Curiosity:

  • She won the Huntington Foundation fellowship in 1957.
Railroad gates by Jo Nivison, 1928

References:

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