Edward Hopper: Nighthawks, 1942, Oil on canvas, 84.1 cm ×9/4/2021, 11:41:57 AM
Edward Hopper: Nighthawks, 1942, Oil on canvas, 84.1 cm × 152.4 cm (33 1⁄8 in × 60 in), Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois The best-known of Edward Hopper's paintings, 'Nighthawks' shows customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. Hopper said that Nighthawks was inspired by “a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet,” but the image has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale. The viewpoint is cinematic—from the sidewalk, as if the viewer were approaching the restaurant. The diner's harsh electric light sets it apart from the dark night outside, enhancing the mood and subtle emotion. Hopper’s understanding of the expressive possibilities of light playing on simplified shapes gives the painting its beauty. He eliminates any reference to an entrance, and the viewer is drawn to the light. The four anonymous and uncommunicative 'night owls' seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another. (The red-haired woman was actually modeled by the artist’s wife) The slickness of the paint, which makes the canvas read almost like an advertisement, and immediate accessibility of the subject matter draws the viewer into Hopper’s painting. But he does not tell us a story. In place of meaningful interactions, the four characters are involved in a series of near misses. The man and woman might be touching hands, but they aren’t. The waiter and smoking-man might be conversing, but they’re not. And then we realize that Hopper has placed us, the viewer, on the city street, with no door to enter the diner, and yet in a position to evaluate each of the people inside. We see the row of empty counter stools nearest us. We notice that no one is making eye contact with any one else. Up close, the waiter’s face appears to have an expression of horror or pain. And then there is a chilling revelation: each of us is completely alone in the world. Hopper denied that he purposefully infused this or any other of his paintings with symbols of human isolation and urban emptiness, but he acknowledged that .. in the Nighthawks unconsciously, probably, he had painted the loneliness of a large city.