Office at Night

Office at Night
Artist Edward Hopper
Year 1940
Medium Oil on canvas
Location Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Dimensions 22.1875 in × 25.125 in
56.356 cm × 63.82 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

A first look at Office at Night (by Edward Hopper) might trick a viewer into thinking that nothing odd is going on. A man sits at his desk going over some papers while his secretary has opened the file cabinet. But on closer examination, it begins to dawn on the viewer that something out of the ordinary is happening in Hopper’s beautifully composed oil painting. For one thing, why are these two people in the office at night? What has happened that’s caused them to work so late? Has some emergency called them back to the office? Is something not quite reputable going on that requires the two of them to be there after everyone else has gone home?

Anxiety in a Mundane Scene

The office seems typical for 1940, the year the painting was created. The dark wood of desks, chairs and door surround, the black of the file cabinet and the echoing black of the old fashioned typewriter and telephone contrast beautifully with the stark white expanse of the far wall, the white of the window casing and the beige roll-up shade. The window is opened and has blown a piece of paper to the forest green floor. Yet, Hopper adds a sense of anxiety by painting the furnishings on a diagonal, which throws everything off balance. Even the swath of light that comes in through the window and falls on the wall and partially on the sidelight is angled. What is that light, by the way? It seems too intense to come from a streetlight, but it can’t be sunlight because this is happening at night.

Mystery Woman

The two people in the picture are also mysterious, but it is the woman, positioned in the center of the picture, who draws the most attention. For one thing, she’s amazingly voluptuous. Her dark blue dress is too tight, and one wonders how she can sit in such a tight dress. Interestingly, Hopper wanted to paint her dress red at first, but red would have been too violent given the painting’s color scheme. Her face, though, is emotionless. She’s here to do her secretarial duties. But why that dress?

A lovely, unsettling puzzle, Office at Night is now at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

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