No artist has ever captured the isolation of an individual within the modern city like Edward Hopper did, exposing the underbelly of the human existence. In an interview for the Reality Magazine in 1953, Hopper said that “great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.“
This intimate and insightful approach is the most evident in his acclaimed Nighthawks painting, an iconic work which has helped define the Modernist movement.
Created in 1942, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks is considered the incarnation of existential art, capturing the alienation and loneliness symptomatic of modern urban life. While Hopper did not intend to evoke a particular emotional state with his Nighthawks painting, the artist admitted that “Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city”. A part of the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago since only a few months after its completion, Nighthawks remains the most requested and sought after painting in their collection and one of the most recognizable paintings of the 20th-century American art.
The Origins of the Nighthawks Painting
A stubborn realist throughout the development of a range of abstract movements, Edward Hopper's paintings are clean, smooth and almost too real. Consistently restrained and subtly suggestive, his paintings invite the viewer to contemplate the narrative. Depicting individuals who were usually isolated and disconnected from their environments, Hopper focused on the solitude of modernlife. Suggesting much about his emotional experience as well asthe psychological inner lives of his subjects, Edward Hopper led the way toward Abstract Expressionism.
According to the journal kept by Hopper's wife Josephine, the Nighthawks painting was completed on January 21st, 1942 in New York, within weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbour. For that reason, the work is often seen as an expression of wartime alienation. In this turbulent times in history when everyone was paranoid about another attack and New York held blackout drills on an ongoing basis as a way to practice hiding the city in darkness in case another aerial assault ever came, Hopper's studio lights stayed on. In her diary, his wife wrote:
Ed refuses to take any interest in the very likely prospect of being bombed.
In January 1942, Josephine wrote a letter to Hopper's sister Marion about the new painting:
Ed has just finished a very fine picture--a lunch counter at night with 3 figures. Night Hawks would be a fine name for it. E. posed for the two men in a mirror and I for the girl. He was about a month and a half working on it.(Video) Hopper's Nighthawks: Look Through The Window
Edward Hopper's Nighthawks painting depicts four characters sitting in a sparsely furnished diner at night - a woman and three men.A single light source illuminates the diner interior and spills outward toward the exterior of an empty street where the world seems to have shut down. Placed in ambiguous relationships, none of the four figures in this picture interact with one another. With characters appearing disconnected from each other and the viewer, the Nighthawks painting suggests a chilling revelation that each of us is completely alone in the world.
With its simple setting, dramatic lighting and ordinary stillness, the painting makes iteasy for the viewer to place him or herself into the scene, on the city streets.The main character of the work seems to be the diner itself, with strong diagonal lines accentuated by the counter and the stools. However, with no doors to enter, the viewer is shut out from the scene by a seamless wedge of glass, allowing the viewer to invade the diner's private world and his Nighthawks from the street by way of sight only.
As in a classic film noir manner, inNighthawksEdward Hopper sets the scene for action that doesn't seem to have taken place yet. Characterized by an open-ended narrative, this painting embodies the artist's interestin the themes of alienation, melancholy,voyeurism and ambiguous relationships.
Edward Hopper's Intense Compositions and Light
In the paintings by Edward Hopper, buildings are often situated at angles to suggest that his subjects are both in front and behind windows. Presenting a separation between the inside and the outside, glasses in the windows seem to be non-existent, inviting the voyeuristic look and suggesting that interiors can be penetrated by gaze. This device is also evident in the Nighthawks painting, where the large window creates an implicit barrier between the viewer and subjects. The angle at which the diner is set onto the cornerallows Hopper to show the people in a mix of frontal and profile views.
Hopper was obsessed with light and the way it fell on houses and people through windows and the colors it made. Yellowish fluorescent light is a substitute for sun in the Nighthawks, emphasizing the artist's understanding of the expressive possibilities of light playing on simplified shapes. The light flooding the diner, the only one illuminating the painting, spills into the night through both windows onto both sides of the street corners. The lightcauses some of the surfaces within the diner to be reflective, which would not be visible in daylight.
The sign above the cafe advertising cigars for $5 and the cash register seen in one of the windows outside suggest a kind of everyday American experience. The Nighthawks scene is silent and serene, further highlighting the intense feeling of isolation.
Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker on Edward Hopper's Nighthawks Painting
The Painting of a Universal Quality
A few short months after Hopper put on the final touches, Daniel Catton Rich, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, declared that the work was as "fine as Homer", referencing the 19th-century American landscape painter. He purchased the Nighthawks painting for the Art Institute for $3000 (around$43,200 today), where it remains still.
Hopper said that the painting"was suggested by a restaurant onGreenwich Avenuewhere two streets meet,"additionally noting that he "simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger." The public has been trying to locate this particular diner in New York for decades, but after an extensive search, it is concluded that it was never a real place. Many people view it as an aptamalgamation of the ordinary and often overlooked sites that make up a modern city such as New York and so many others.
With its carefully constructed composition, lack of narrative and flat, abstracting planes of color, the canvas has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular local, making it an object onto which one can project one’s own reality. Indeed, Hopper's Nighthawks could be seated anywhere. It is in this inherent universality, that the power of the painting resides.
An important piece of Americana, the painting also has an ability toevoke a sense of nostalgia for an America of a time gone by. However, Nighthawks by Edward Hopper remains relevant even today as a subtle critique of the modern world, the world in which we all live,where an overwhelming sense of loneliness, and a deep desire, but ultimate inability, to connect with those around us prevails.
Editors’ Tip: Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche by Gordon Theisen
A fascinating study of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, one of his most celebrated paintings on view at The Art Institute of Chicago, and its deep significance for understanding American culture. It discusses the painting and the central importance of the artist to art history and twentieth-century American culture. Topics include individualism, New York City, Arthur "Weegee" Fellig, diners, pornography, capitalism, advertising, cigarettes, American philosophy, World War II,Gravity's Rainbow,Blade Runner,Pulp Fiction, Russ Meyer, R. Crumb, David Lynch, and film noir. What links these together is the painting's pessimistic take on American culture, which it also seems to epitomize. Despite its desolate feel,this work of art has become a familiar icon, reproduced on posters and postcards, in movies and on television shows. ButNighthawksis more than just a masterful painting. It is a portal into that rarely acknowledged but a pervasive dark side of the American psyche.
Featured image:Edward Hopper - Nighthawks (detail), 1942. All images Captions, via Creative Commons.
What does the Nighthawks painting represent? ›
Nighthawks depicts not only the bitter alienation of living in a large city, but the paranoia that gripped the United States after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Anxieties over a second attack shrouded the city like the frequent blackout drills New York and its residents were subjected to.Why is Edward Hopper so famous? ›
Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is generally considered the foremost realist painter of 20th-century America. Though Hopper also worked in etching and watercolor, he is best known for his oil paintings, which often convey a sense of melancholy or isolation.How would you describe Edward Hopper painting? ›
Edward Hopper's Paintings Exemplify Social Distancing
Many times, his compositions feature only one person. Hopper's paintings highlight themes of isolation and loneliness. In their time, these works were successful at depicting the emotions of Americans during both the World Wars and the Great Depression.
His most famous painting, Nighthawks, had humble beginnings.
Drawing on a real-life restaurant in New York's West Village neighborhood, Hopper painted a scene featuring three people at a diner—two of them having coffee, one of them sitting alone—while a vacant city continues on undisturbed.
'Nighthawks' is often read as an exploration of human existentialism and loneliness in the modern age. The figures feel distant and disconnected from each other which is reflected by the viewer's literal distance from the interior scene which is separated by a bending glass exterior with no clear entrance.What elements of art are used in Nighthawks? ›
Both paintings use red and green complimentary colors to create an unstable oppressive environment. Both artists create green tinted shadows in the foreground. Darker green elements unite the composition—the pool table, ceiling, and tabletops in The Night Café and window frames and shades in Nighthawks.Why is Nighthawks so popular? ›
Created in 1942, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks is considered the incarnation of existential art, capturing the alienation and loneliness symptomatic of modern urban life.What technique does Edward Hopper use? ›
By creating sketches, Hopper could try out different representations, all of which provided information that aided the final decision-making process. Another one of Hopper's methods of preparation was to include detailed color notations that would allow him to paint in his studio instead of on-site.What elements of design is Edward Hopper known for? ›
He was an American realist painter known for his contrasting colors, dramatic angles, incredibly sensitive use of light, and a sense of balance in every painting. At the beginning of Edward Hopper's career, he made a few trips to France.What is the emotion that Hopper includes in most of his paintings? ›
Born on July 22 1882, Hopper later became a prolific artist. His works depict urban loneliness, disappointment, even despair.
What style is Edward Hopper's paintings? ›
Edward HopperWhat themes did Edward Hopper explore in his paintings? ›
Hopper's etchings signal themes the artist would explore throughout his career: isolated figures, empty streets, strong contrasts between light and shadow, and the play of sunlight on architecture.Why did Edward Hopper paint the way he did? ›
“Hopper starts with fact and uses fact, but his paintings are as important for what they omit as they are for what they include. The drawings were a way to work out compositionally the poses, angles and form but also a way to conceptualize the idea at the same time.”How does Edward Hopper use Colour? ›
His work is recognizable due to his unique, pessimistic interpretation of the world. He used dark and light colors in his paintings to juxtapose light and shade along with human construction and savage nature (Hopper 37).Why is it called a Nighthawk? ›
The term "nighthawk", first recorded in the King James Bible of 1611, was originally a local name in England for the European nightjar. Its use in the Americas refers to members of the genus Chordeiles and related genera was first recorded in 1778.What is the tone of Nighthawks? ›
The overall tone of the painting is dark, other than the focal point: those in the diner. The layout of the painting includes the corner of a diner on the right side that takes up about three quarters of the canvas.What was Nighthawks based on? ›
Nighthawks is one of Hopper's New York City paintings, and the artist said that it was based on a real café. Many people have tried to find the exact setting of the painting, but have failed. In his wife's diaries, she wrote that she and Hopper himself both served as models for the people in the painting.What elements of art is usually used? ›
The seven most common elements include line, shape, texture, form, space, color and value, with the additions of mark making, and materiality. When analyzing these intentionally utilized elements, the viewer is guided towards a deeper understanding of the work.What are the elements of art used for? ›
ELEMENTS OF ART: The visual components of color, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value. may be two-or three-dimensional, descriptive, implied, or abstract.What are the 5 main elements of art? ›
The goal of this unit is to introduce students to the basic elements of art (color, line, shape, form, and texture) and to show students how artists use these elements in different ways in their work.
How much is the nighthawk painting worth today? ›
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper in Context.
|What It Is Worth||Sold in 1942 for $3000|
One of the leading Romantic landscape painters was the German painter Caspar David Friedrich, whose work is often related to the 18th century concept of the Sublime — the sensation we experience when confronted with the boundlessness of nature, or the immeasurable power of natural forces.What did Edward Hopper use for contrast? ›
He used horizontal, vertical, and diagonal lines, and large, simple shapes. Changes in value give shapes an illusion of real form. The light and dark values also create contrast .What mediums does Edward Hopper use? ›
Answer and Explanation: Edward Hopper primarily used oil paint on canvas as the medium for his art. He also created a number of etchings and a few watercolor paintings.What is realism in art appreciation? ›
realism, in the arts, the accurate, detailed, unembellished depiction of nature or of contemporary life. Realism rejects imaginative idealization in favour of a close observation of outward appearances.Who did Edward Hopper influence? ›
Edward HopperWhat does the artist express in his feelings? ›
Artists create art that conveys to us how they think and feel about things. Artists use different lines, shapes, and colors to express their feelings. Every artist chooses their own colors, lines and shapes that are meaningful for them. Learn more about Expressionism as an artist movement HERE.What feelings and emotions do you get while looking at art? ›
Art and Emotion. One central feature of aesthetic experiences is their ability to arouse emotions in perceivers. It feels natural to experience joy, pleasure shivers down the spine, awe in sight of grandiose artworks, or sometimes even negative emotions of fear, anger or disgust in front of visually challenging stimuli ...What emotions does Mr Hooper evoke? ›
What emotions does Mr. Hooper evoke in his congregation that he ever did before? His sermon arouses feelings of guilt, fear, and remorse.What is Hopper's most famous painting called? ›
Nighthawks is a painting produced by Edward Hopper in 1942. Many historians considered Hopper's most famous work and one of the most recognizable paintings in American art. This painting can be viewed at the Art Institute of Chicago.
How do you Analyse color in art? ›
Artists use color value to create different moods. Dark colors in a composition suggest a lack of light, as in a night or interior scene. Dark colors can often convey a sense of mystery or foreboding. Light colors often describe a light source or light reflected within the composition.What colors are used in Nighthawks painting? ›
Hopper in most of his paintings that involved human subjects used eye-searing, garish color combination. Although the colors in this painting are subdued to show the shower of night, one can clearly see the use of fluorescent tinge in the greens and reds and yellows.How did Edward Hopper draw? ›
Hopper worked his compositions out in series' of sketches, however, he was careful not to finish the drawings too much, as he might copy them rather than flushing out the concept in his mind. For this same reason, he did not paint color sketches for his paintings.What do cigarettes symbolize in art? ›
In art, smoking initially symbolised death, but came later to symbolise modernity, youth and nervous excitement. In literature, smoking is often used to evoke individuality and eccentricity, as is the case with Sherlock Holmes.What is the meaning behind the desperate man painting? ›
The Desperate Man
It probably was painted about 1844–45, after Courbet had been rejected several times by the Salon jury and was becoming disillusioned with his youthful Romantic ideals. Looking back on his early struggles, Courbet would comment, "How I was made to suffer despair in my youth!"
Scroll painting usually refers to a painting on a scroll in Asian traditions, distinguishing between: Handscroll, such a painting in horizontal format. Hanging scroll, such a painting in vertical format.What does the painting in BoJack horseman mean? ›
The painting illustrates a story of loneliness and detachment, a perfect artistic representation of BoJack's ongoing turmoil. Art reference to David Hockney's Portrait of an artist (Pool with two figures) in BoJack Horseman, S1E02. BoJack Horseman/ Netflix.What cigarette colors mean? ›
For example, now blue, gold, and silver are typically reserved for the supposedly milder products, while red is used for traditional cigarettes and the color green for menthol cigarettes.What smoking colors mean? ›
Thin, black, fast smoke indicates a well-ventilated fire is nearby. Slow, white, dissipating smoke (first thick but thinning quickly) is a sign of steam, and indicates early stage heating. Brown smoke indicates unfinished wood burning. In lightweight construction, this can be a warning sign for building collapse.What do candles symbolize in art? ›
Candles: The Passing Of Time
Another common component of vanitas still life paintings, candles represent the inevitability of the passing of time—the longer they burn, the smaller they get until there is nothing left. A lit candle symbolizes light, truth, and knowledge. An extinguished candle symbolizes loss and death.
What do you think is the message of the artist in Man at the Crossroads? ›
Diego Rivera was one of Nelson Rockefeller's mother's favorite artists and therefore was commissioned to create the huge mural. He was given a theme: "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future." Rockefeller wanted the painting to make people pause and think.What is the characteristics of the desperate man? ›
Bold, wily, radical, ambitious and determined. Determined to challenge established painting genres, protest against traditional clichés, and change the course of art history.What were the main features of scroll painting? ›
Common themes on scroll paintings tend to be landscapes (including natural features like mountains and cities), people, and birds in floral settings. Here's a handscroll painted by Ma Yüan titled The Four Sages of Shangshan, done between 1220 and 1230. It's an example of people combined with landscape as a subject.What is painting on wood called? ›
panel painting, painting executed on a rigid support—ordinarily wood or metal—as distinct from painting done on canvas.Why is scroll painting important? ›
The Chinese scroll painting is an important source to the linage of the traditional painting to modern. It depicts from court to individual memorable events and stories. Bengal pata paintings developed to reflect a variety of themes of Myth and the other historical events.Does BoJack say the F word? ›
"There's a rule—never explicitly codified by the show's writers, but well-understood among its fans—that BoJack Horseman only ever employs a single use of the word 'f*ck' per season," says William Hughes. "It's a matter of restraint, not Standards And Practices.What is the deeper meaning behind BoJack Horseman? ›
As the show's star, BoJack is used as a vessel for the show's most prevalent themes: addiction, depression, self-loathing, and more. The show focuses on his story as he tries to come to terms with the decisions he has made and be a better person.Who is BoJack Horseman in love with? ›
BoJack Horseman had feelings for Diane Nguyen (voiced by Alison Brie) throughout all five seasons of the show but never once did he actually get the chance to be with her.