Noted for his paintings of isolated individuals or couples in urban environments, Edward Hopper was born in rural Nyack, New York. He studied for several years at the New York School of Art with Robert Henri, whom he referred to as his most influential teacher. Hopper sold his first painting at the landmark Armory Show in 1913. He found it difficult to sell his art during the next decade, however, and worked primarily as a commercial illustrator. His first solo show was held at the Whitney Studio Club in 1920, but failed to generate sales. The year 1923 was critical for Hopper, as he sold his first work in ten years: a watercolor to the Brooklyn Museum. That same year Hopper moved to Greenwich Village, where he remade the acquaintance of fellow artist Jo Nivision, who would become his wife.
Creating a play between exterior and interior space, "Apartment Houses" suggests the congestion of city dwelling. Through its angular perspective, the viewer catches a glimpse of a solitary figure engaged in domestic work in the corner of an apartment interior, but through the back window one sees another apartment building, conveying a sense of the limited space and lack of privacy of the urban world. Exhibited in and purchased from the 1923 annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy, this was Hopper's first oil to enter a museum collection.