STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's put into our minds one of the ultimate images of summer. A woman in a short, pink slip sits on a bed, her knees pulled up to her chest and she's gazing out a window. Her hair is pulled back into a bun, and her arms are wrapped around her knees. Edward Hopper painted her in 1952 and called the work called "Morning Sun." The painting has been reproduced for decades. NPR's special correspondent Susan Stamberg went to Ohio to see the original at the Columbus Museum of Art.
MELISSA WOLFE: ...and then the Hopper goes in the middle of this wall.
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: Excuse me. The Hopper was there, but where is it?
WOLFE: The Hopper right now is in Maine...
STAMBERG: Melissa Wolfe is the Columbus museum's curator of American art.
WOLFE: It's on loan right now to an exhibition.
STAMBERG: Wait. I came all this way from Washington D.C. to Columbus, Ohio to see one of the world's most famous paintings by Edward Hopper, and it's not here?
WOLFE: No. It travels a lot. It's a very well-requested painting.
STAMBERG: Sometimes they do turn down a request. The lady needs to rest after all, but basically, "Morning Sun" has a passport that makes Hillary Clinton look like a couch potato.
WOLFE: She's been to Japan twice. She's been to Mexico twice. She was at the Tate Modern. She's been to Italy, Switzerland, Germany.
STAMBERG: Right now, she's in Madrid. This fall, she goes to Paris. Now the Columbus, Ohio art museum keeps a big poster of "Morning Sun" in the gallery where the painting usually - or sometimes - hangs. Slight comfort for Hopper reality fans. Still there are fun facts about how she travels. Columbus Director Nannette Maciejunes says the museum does the packing - bubble wrap, sealing tape, crate.
NANNETTE MACIEJUNES: The Hopper has its own special crate that we - I think we've had it remade a couple of times, but we just keep it. It's marked the Hopper crate, and we store it for the next time she goes on a trip.
STAMBERG: Museum staffers travel with her. Before airport super-security became a way of life, curators could stand on the tarmac and watch paintings being loaded. Now, they go to a viewing room to watch. Accredited museums don't charge when they lend, collegial creed, they say. There is a small fee to cover paperwork. As for insurance, it's paid by the borrower.
WOLFE: And it's wall to wall. They insure it from the time it comes off the wall until the time it comes back to our wall.
STAMBERG: Before Morning Sun goes up on a new wall, it sits in its crate, getting acclimatized, kind of like a fine violin.
MACIEJUNES: Usually 24 hours.
STAMBERG: Twenty-four hours...
MACIEJUNES: Twenty-four hours it stays in its crate.
STAMBERG: Columbus staffers monitor the uncrating and inspect to make sure it's traveled well.
WOLFE: And then we watch it go up on the wall. And then we say, it looks great, good luck, and we head home.
STAMBERG: Columbus, Ohio became home to "Morning Sun" thanks to an acquisitions fund donated by a wealthy local collector and painter. In 1954, the museum got in touch with Frank K.M. Rehn at Hopper's New York gallery.
WOLFE: Rehn said, well, if you offer us this much, I'm sure Eddie will take it, and he did.
STAMBERG: And how much was it?
WOLFE: It was 35 hundred.
MACIEJUNES: That's one of the things, in the museum business, you really don't talk about, current values of paintings.
STAMBERG: Columbus Museum Director Nannette MacieJunes.
MACIEJUNES: But this is a historic value, so it's kind of hard to believe that an Edward Hopper, in 1954...
WOLFE: ...'54 was 35 hundred.
STAMBERG: In recent years, Hoppers have gone for 10 and $20-plus million, enough to buy a few mink coats to cover that bare-armed lady in the picture. She, the model, was someone Edward Hopper knew very well.
WOLFE: The model was Jo, who was Hopper's wife. She insisted, after they were married in the '20s, that she be his only model.
STAMBERG: She was 69 when she posed for "Morning Sun," yet Hopper paints a shapely woman, no wrinkles, no wriggly chin. Nice to have a husband who keeps you young and thoughtful, as she looks out that painted window at buildings across the way.
WOLFE: When I look at this for a long time, I always imagine that while, you know, we're looking from the inside here, that the implication is that there is someone just like her sitting sort of in this atomized, bare room, looking out of every single one of those other windows, too.
STAMBERG: Morning Sun, about isolation in cities maybe. Everyone in her or his own world. People always think Hopper, himself a solitary, quiet man, is painting loneliness.
WOLFE: I actually don't. And Hopper himself said the loneliness thing is overrated.
STAMBERG: Curator Melissa Wolfe sees solitude, not loneliness, in Edward Hopper's Morning Sun. See what you see, either now at npr.org, or at a museum near you, where the much traveled painted lady from the Columbus, Ohio Art Museum just might show up some day. I'm Susan Stamberg, NPR News.