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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, depicts people in a downtown diner late at night. It is Hopper’s most famous painting and one of the most recognisable pictures in American art. A restaurant in Greenwich Village near Hopper’s neighbourhood in Manhattan, which has since been demolished, inspired the scene. Hopper said that a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue suggested the painting. He also stated that “I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger.”

Hopper’s wife’s journal indicates that the painting’s title had its origins, as a reference to the shape of the men’s nose at the counter. Hopper’s “A Journal of His Work” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, states:

“Night + brilliant interior of a cheap restaurant. Bright items: cherry wood counter + tops of surrounding stools; light on metal tanks at rear right; brilliant streak of jade green tiles 3/4 across canvas–at base of glass of window curving at corner. Light walls, dull yellow ochre door into kitchen right.

Very good looking blond boy in white (coat, cap) inside counter. Girl in red blouse, brown hair eating sandwich. Man night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette. Other figure dark sinister back–at left. Light sidewalk outside pale greenish. Darkish red brick houses opposite. Sign across top of restaurant, dark–Phillies 5c cigar. Picture of cigar. Outside of shop dark, green. Note: bit of bright ceiling inside shop against dark of outside street–at edge of stretch of top of window.”

Nighthawks is so widely recognised, that the diner scene in Nighthawks has served as the model for homage and parodies in numerous art forms. For example, Nighthawks influenced the film “Blade Runner”. The director Ridley Scott used this painting to illustrate the look and mood he wanted for his movie.

Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper (1882 –  1967) was an American realist painter and printmaker. While he is best known for his oil paintings, he was equally proficient as a watercolourist and printmaker in etching. His spare and planned renderings reflected his vision of modern American life.

Hopper’s influence on the art world and pop culture is undeniable. Many artists have cited him as an influence, including Willem de Kooning, Jim Dine, and Mark Rothko. Hopper’s cinematic compositions and dramatic use of light and dark have made him a favourite among filmmakers.

In focusing primarily on quiet moments, very rarely showing action, Hopper employed a form of realism adopted by another leading American realist. Hopper shared his urban sensibility with John Sloan and George Bellows but avoided their overt action. Hopper reduced the monumental structures of our urban landscape to everyday geometrics, and he depicted the pulse of the city as desolate and potentially dangerous.

Nighthawks

  • Title:                   Nighthawks
  • Artist:                 Edward Hopper
  • Year:                   1942
  • Medium:            Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:       84.1 cm × 152.4 cm ( 33 1⁄8 in × 60 in)
  • Museum:           Art Institute of Chicago

Edward Hopper

A Tour of the Art Institute of Chicago

A Tour of Chicago’s Museums

Reflections

  • Why is this one of the most recognisable paintings in U.S. art?
  • Why are there so many homages and parodies to this painting?

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“If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”
– Edward Hopper

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Photo Credit: Edward Hopper [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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