Artist Edward Hopper
Year 1942
Medium Oil on canvas
Location Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Dimensions 33.1 in × 60 in
84.1 cm × 152.4 cm
Edward Hopper Famous Paintings
Nighthawks, 1942
Automat, 1927
Early Sunday Morning, 1930
Room in New York, 1932
Hotel Lobby, 1943
Chop Suey, 1929
Office at Night, 1940
Office in a Small City, 1953
Girl at Sewing Machine, 1921
Complete Works

Inspired by a diner in Greenwich Village, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, oil on canvas painting, is Hopper’s most famous and recognizable work in American art. The painting was completed in January, 1942, and it depicts a waiter and three other patrons, sitting in a downtown diner late at night, on a barren New York street corner. Because Hopper was born and lived in New York, this Greenwich Village diner was chosen as his subject. Nighthawks was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago shortly after completion, and remains there as a great reflection of American history.

Nighthawks Description

The nighttime scene, on a desolate street intersection, allows the viewer to look inside the Phillies Five-Cent Cigar diner. A time when cigars were smoked fashionably, and men wore stylish suits and hats, it is evident by their dress, that it depicts a different era of America. The diner, encased in glass, is brightly lit, and the viewer can see three men and a woman within the diner. The detail is such, that the viewer can see details such as coffee cups, and even salt and pepper shakers; however, the painting also leaves a lot to the imagination.

The triangular architecture of the diner suggests that it is located on an intersection of streets. The bright yellow and white colors used within the diner, along with the bright cherry wood of the bar counter, makes the diner look warm and inviting. It is a great contrast to the green, darker, and vacant ambiance of the street and buildings surrounding it. It is a thought-provoking painting, leading the viewer to wonder why there is nobody else around, and to wonder who the people are in the diner, and why they are there.

Edward Hopper was a historian who used painting as his medium, instead of the written word, to depict 1940’s American life in his home state, through Nighthawks. Many interpretations can be made as to its symbolism and deeper meanings, yet it depicts a time in American history to be remembered.

Edward Hopper Techniques

Hopper used perspective in setting the scene for Nighthawks, at an angled street corner allowing him to show the subjects from various angles, while also displaying the street scene. It gives the viewer the feeling of looking in on something. It also lets the viewer wonder what the man looks like, with his back to the viewer, creating intrigue.

Hopper’s use of bright color and reflection shows realistic lighting. The top of the ceiling is the brightest spot, and depicting fluorescent lighting of the time, washes out the skin tones of the patrons very realistically. The dull colors dominate the outside scene, as brighter colors inside the diner draw the eye to what is happening inside, just as realistically as if the viewer were walking down a street at night, and the viewer’s eye would be drawn to the light source.

The lighting effect captures the night time nuance of man-made light. The viewer can see light escaping from the diner windows onto the New York City streets. Multiple shadows are cast upon the street, and the light realistically reflects on objects inside the diner, which indicates night time, because these shadows would not be cast, and reflections would not be visible in daylight.

Known best for his oil paintings, Hopper often made sketches before painting, detailing his intentions. He used light and shadow effectively to create the mood of his paintings, and bright sunlight, signifying revelation, and the shadows it cast in life. He used simplified shapes and details to show realism, and he used saturated colors to emphasize contrast, and to create the mood for his realistic American scenes. His subjects were common American-life scenes, and its people.

Hopper once said about his art: “The term life used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it”. Edward Hopper depicted the real-life diner in America brilliantly, and Nighthawks has become an influence in paintings, sculptures, literature, film, music, television, and parodies. For a painting that took him under two months to complete, Nighthawks will continue to be admired for a long time, making history itself.

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