A Look at Edward Hopper’s Print Market

James Macry in our prints and drawings department examines two works that exemplify the market for Edward Hopper prints

Edward Hopper first began printmaking in 1915, following the encouragement and instruction of fellow illustrator, and friend Martin Lewis. A hesitant printmaker, Hopper only produced 70 etchings and drypoints before abandoning the medium outright in 1928 to focus solely on painting. Hopper forewent traditional routes of production for his prints, electing instead to print the work himself on his personal etching press in very small editions. As the renowned print curator Carl Zigrosser noted, Hopper “Does not number his prints and has fixed one hundred as the outside limit of impressions taken. This does not mean that there are one hundred proofs of each subject in existence. The artist prints them as the occasion demands.”

This exceedingly rarified printing method—70 total editions with limited, unnumbered, artist-produced prints—has made Hopper prints among the scarcest and most sought-after graphic works in public and private collections of American Modern art. Hopper’s etchings are included in the collections of nearly every major United States museum; they also frequently appear in exhibitions internationally. His etchings not only serve as precursors to the stylistic isolation and imagery Hopper would develop into his iconic paintings, but stand alone as masterpieces of modern American printing.

This exceeding rarity has resulted in a unique, and increasingly scarce market, best exemplified by two prints in the June 30 sale of Edward Hopper & His Contemporaries: Making a Modern American Art: The Railroad and Night Shadows.

The Railroad

At offer for the first time at Swann, The Railroad is the ultimate example of Hopper print rarity, having only been seen at auction twice in the last 30 years, last offered for sale in 2004.

Edward Hopper, The Railroad, etching 1922. Estimate $70,000 to $100,000.

Like many of the 70 etchings Hopper made during his brief foray into printmaking, The Railroad has become exceedingly scarce to the market; with estimated values increasing, and often doubling from decade to decade. Many Hopper etchings have often sold less than ten times in the last 30 years, with few—like The Railroad—being offered less than three times in the last several decades. 

The Railroad is not only among Hopper’s most scarce etchings, it is also among his best-known prints, appearing in collections of The Whitney Museum, The Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, among other top American institutions.

Night Shadows

The single exception to Hopper’s self-made, small-scale editions is Night Shadows, printed in an edition of approximately 500 for a limited edition portfolio in The New Republic’s December 1924 issue. Despite the larger number of impressions, Night Shadows still demonstrates the demand of Hopper’s rarified print market. Of the 240 total Hopper prints offered at auction in the last 30 years, around 100, or 41 percent, have been an edition of Night Shadows.

Edward Hopper, Night Shadows, etching, 1921. Estimate $25,000 to $35,000.

Yet even with the larger edition, sales of Night Shadows have slowed, only having been offered 55 times in the last decade, representing the increasing scarcity of Hopper’s highly collectible work. Swann is no stranger to Night Shadows, having offered and sold 26 impressions—nearly half of sales in the last decade—with an astounding 92% sell-through rate.

Within the last decade, Night Shadows has averaged an increase in value from an average sale of around $20,000 to an increase of an average of around $30,000, including recent auction highs in the range of $60,000 to $80,000. Like Hopper’s other etchings, Night Shadows has undergone a near doubling of prices at auction within the last ten years, and an increasing rarity in the already highly selective Hopper print market.

Swann continues to be the leading destination for collectors seeking Hopper’s illustrious and exclusive etchings, with our premier offering of The Railroad and repeated handling of Night Shadows.

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Edward Hopper Drawings

Equally scarce as Hopper’s etchings on the art market are his drawings, most notably early sheets that he created between around 1895 and 1910, during his student years and work early in his career as an illustrator. Many of these early Hopper drawings are now held in major American museums, with the vast majority at the Whitney Museum of American Art, acquired through the bequest of Josephine “Jo” Hopper, the artist’s widow. 

The current selection of some 40 different early drawings, all from a single private American collection, in the June 30 auction is the most extensive trove of early Hopper works ever to appear at auction. Only approximately 40 early drawings by Hopper have appeared at auction altogether over the past three decades.

Do you have a work by Edward Hopper we should take a look at?