May 25, 2020
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Hopper painting said to be inspired by Maine restaurant sells for record $91.9M

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Theresa Chan and Todd Bernard are photographed before reopening the Empire Portland restaurant in 2013 as a Dim Sum restaurant. Yum Cha, in Cantonese, literally means "drink tea" but it also means Dim Sum or "have a little to eat."

The painting “Chop Suey” by Edward Hopper sold at auction for $91.9 million this week, more than doubling the record for the famed 20th century American artist, according to the New York Times.

The auction house Christie’s described the well-known 1929 painting, which depicts women sitting at a table at a restaurant, as likely being inspired by Hopper’s visits to restaurants in New York City and “during his travels,” according to CNN.

But at least one seemingly clear muse for the painting is a downtown Portland restaurant whose descendant is still there today.

According to a report in Portland Monthly, just before painting “Chop Suey,” Hopper and his wife traveled to Greater Portland. At that time, today’s Empire restaurant featured a distinctive vertical sign reading “Chop Suey” just like the one seen outside the second-story window in the painting.

The Monthly goes on to report that the Portland restaurant’s bay windows more exactly the match those in the painting than the Manhattan eatery that for many years was assumed to be the inspiration for the artwork.

After seeing side-by-side images of the Portland restaurant and the painting, the curator of a Seattle Art Museum exhibition of Hopper works at the time told the Monthly she was a convert.

“I admit I was skeptical, but after seeing the image, I am absolutely convinced,” Patti Junker told the Monthly. “I think it was this chop-suey restaurant that he had in mind, although the picture was conceived in his studio in NYC.”

Before “Chop Suey,” the record sale price for a Hopper painting at auction was $40.5 million in 2013, according to the New York Times. “Chop Suey” was one of 91 paintings from the estate of the late Seattle collector Barney Ebsworth to be auctioned off.

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