The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

Nighthawks

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942

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 paintings in American art.

The scene was inspired by a diner in Greenwich Village near Hopper’s neighbourhood in Manhattan, which has since been demolished. Hopper said that the painting “was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue.” He also stated that “I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger.”

Edward Hopper and his wife Josephine (Jo) kept a journal and Jo’s notes provide insights, including the possibility that the painting’s title may have had its origins as a reference to the beak-shaped nose of the man at the bar, or that the appearance of one of the people depicted was tweaked in order to relate to the original meaning of the word. Hopper’s “A Journal of His Work” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, states:

“Night + brilliant interior of 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 and the diner scene in Nighthawks has served as the model for a number of homages and parodies in numerous art forms such as: painting, sculpture, literature, film and music. 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 film.

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Essential Facts:

  • 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

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                    Edward Hopper
  • Born:                      1882 – Upper Nyack, New York, United States
  • Died:                       1967 (aged 84) – Manhattan, New York, United States
  • Nationality:           American
  • Notable works:
    • Automat (1927)
    • Chop Suey (1929)
    • Nighthawks (1942)
    • Office in a Small City (1953)

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“Of course one should not drink much, but often.” Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

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