In Edward Hopperâ€™s paintings, all the scenes seem to be conducted by lighting: whether by the sunlight streaming into rooms onto vacant faces or by being lit from within; a staging with the figures ready.
Even his landscapes have a quality of beginning. Figures seem always to be looking through the space between and none of the sightlines are for us. This sense of the moment, where action is suspended, without apparent purpose, surrounds Hopper's work and is far more naturalistic in intent than Magritte or Rousseau, despite the echoes of isolation and mystery.
The early work is very reminiscent of Sickert – dark and slick with a great undercurrent of drama. His etchings show his enthusiasm for pure drawing. He cast all this away when he was able to give up his bread and butter training in illustration and commercial art at the age of 42 and simplify into painting.
The photographs, in the room next to the exhibition, feature the artist in his New York studio of fifty years, static against windows, as well as a portrait of nonplussed gaze as if he were looking out of one of his own settings.
For this exhibition, the Tate has opened up all its own sightlines and uncovered every window: go on a bright morning and the slanting sunlight will enliven your enjoyment of these extraordinary paintings.
• Edward Hopper is at Tate Modern until Sunday 5 September; admission £9 (conc £7)
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