and he understood that city, more than most people.
He understood that even though you may live in
one of the most crowded and busy cities on earth,
it is still possible to feel entirely alone.
This painting was completed on january the 21st, 1942.
Just weeks of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
And the Americans’ entry into World War II.
That’s not to say the war was a direct influence,
but the feeling of dread, many americans had,
surely infused the painting.
Afraid of air raid attacks,
New York had blackout drills
and lights were dimmed in public spaces.
Streets emptied out,
and Hopper’s city was effectively dark…
[Newsreel] “The route was past miles of tenements,
giving the passengers a glimpse into every window,
all the tenement dwellers got in return,
was a feeling of being close to the passing parade”.
Edward Hopper took the elevated El-train to work for decades.
In his forties,
he was a failure
who couldn’t sell a painting.
He hated his job as a magazine illustrator,
but he needed the money.
His paintings were pretty much ignored by critics.
while his fellow artists enjoyed success and fame.
But hopper was convinced of his talent,
and even when he was broke,
he only accepted illustration work three days a week.
Hopper’s voice: “Illustration really didn’t interest me i was forced into it,
by an effort to make some money that’s all”.
The rest of the week he painted extraordinary images.
He spent his entire adult life in New York City.
Most of it in a small walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village.
Eventually his wife Jo would move in.
It was not a happy marriage
they argued a lot
and it was explosive,
at times violent and extremely codependent.
They would sometimes not talk to each other for days,
and spent much of their marriage in silence.
We see this reflected in the disconnected and unhappy couples
he portrays time and again in his paintings.
Couples who may share the same space,
but inhabit different worlds.
Then in 1924 at the age of 42,
he had his first sellout show,
promptly gave up his illustration,
and devoted his life exclusively to art.
He married Jo in 1924
the same year he got his solo show.
They were both in their 40s when they married,
and they would stay together for 43 years.
Before they married
Jo was a moderately successful artist,
and it was her
who introduced him to curators at the Brooklyn museum,
who bought one of his paintings
and launched his career.
It was down to Jo that Edward became a success,
a fact he never thanked her for.
Jo Hopper: “it seems to me that women are the ones
that show the gratitude”.
In fact Edward,
a gloomy and silent figure
would spend their marriage constantly belittling
and denigrating his wife
and her artistic talents.
Jo would respond with verbal assaults of her own.
She was possessive and jealous
and refused to allow other women to pose for him.
She was the model for every single one of his paintings,
including “Girlie Show” when she was 60 years old.
Their unhappy marriage
almost certainly contributed to the artists depicting figures
who seem emotionally unresolved.
In Hopper’s paintings,
couples are not communicating,
touching or displaying any affection.
Relationships are ambiguous,
characters do not interact with each other.
They are disconnected,
both from themselves, and from us.
Jo and Edward Hopper
loved the theatre and movies,
and nighthawks suggest to us a scene on an illuminated stage,
as if we are watching in a darkened theatre.
His compositions were often influenced by set design,
and the kind of aggressive cropping and angles
we see in cinema.
With Hopper’s work
it is important to focus on the preparation.
Finding the right subject matter crippled him with anxiety.
Once he decided, there followed months of research,
and mostly sketching.
There are 19 surviving sketches for Nighthawks,
but he would have done many more.
Hopper would use life drawings
to establish a visual understanding,
and then relied on his subconscious
to refine the final composition of his paintings.
We know from Jo’s notes on the painting,
that she posed for the woman,
and Edward posed for the three men.
He dismissed his years spent illustrating magazines,
but along with the preparation skills he picked up,
it also helped to hone his story telling abilities.
He planed nighthore like a film director.
Storyboarding the painting ahead of its creation,
he prepared props,
the position of hands,
the distance of the couple,
And everything was documented by Jo.
Then he worked out the angle of the diner’s window,
and its position in the street
like an architect.
Hopper uses strong diagonal lines for the diner,
that converge off-screen
and suggest a space outside the painting.
But also lead the eye to the right.
No matter which side of the painting you look at first,
the clever use of perspective,
pulls your eyes towards the four figures in the diner.
He uses colour to achieve this too.
Darker tones of red and green outside the diner,
stand out against the bright yellow interior.
Causing our gaze to shift
There is no life outside the diner
and what details there are,
We see a cash register across the way,
in an otherwise deserted store.
We see an ad above the diner.
But the buildings around are devoid of life.
This is a world shut down.
The large window,
not only creates a barrier between the viewer and the characters,
but also emphasises the silence inside the diner,
and adds a voyeuristic touch.
The characters are trapped,
like specimens in a jar.
Windows and looking through them,
feature in so many of Hopper’s works.
And we are often looking at an angle.
Although he was often grouped with the “American realist painters”,
he once said:
“I think i am still an impressionist”
The ideas of one artist in particular
Gustav Caillebotte was a major influence
and is rarely discussed.
His works often feature the window motif,
but we can also see his influence
on hopper’s loose brushwork,
his use of saturated colour,
his urban settings
and his perspectives.
Like the Impressionists,
Hopper was obsessed by light.
The year before Hopper painted Nighthawks,
“Cafe terrace at Night” by Vincent van Gogh
was exhibited in New York,
which we know Hopper saw and admired.
Both scenes are lit by artificial light.
Gas lamps in van Gogh’s case.
In hopper’s diner,
the light source is neon light,
a relatively new thing in the 1940s,
which gives it an eerie glow,
like a beacon on the dark street corner.
The night-time setting is melancholic
and enhances the emotional content of the work.
Hopper often portrayed a specific time of day in his paintings,
and night-time seems a particular time of anxiety for him,
from early on in his career.
If you are looking for a door to welcome us in –
there just isn’t one
– to go in or out –
the diner is hermetically sealed.
Effectively keeping the viewer at bay.
We can only stare in from the outside.
The door we see, probably leads to the kitchen.
What really interested Hopper
was emotions and interpersonal relationships.
He was drawn to the lives of people
had seen through the windows on the EI-train.
In offices and in restaurants and apartments,
the characters are in their own worlds.
As is usual with Hopper,
there is no sign of conversation amongst them.
Tension somehow radiates from them.
He specialised in these open-ended narratives,
which demand the active role of the viewer
in completing the story.
He plays with our expectations,
with our unconsciousmind.
This unrelated image,
painted two years before Nighthawks,
is a radically different subject matter,
but there is still a sense of foreboding.
A feeling that the story will continue outside the frame.
Couples and their lack of emotional interaction,
was a theme in Hopper’s work,
and this would increase as he got older
and his relationship with Jo more distant.
The couple are physically close,
yet psychologically miles apart.
Are they even a couple?
At first we think their hands are touching,
but they are not.
Her coffee cup is steaming,
his is stone cold.
he has been waiting a while for her.
The title of the painting came from Jo,
who described this character as having a hawk beaked nose.
He is holding an unlit cigarette,
which in Hopper’s original sketch,
was in the woman’s hand.
The isolation of the solitary man with his back to us,
is accentuated by the couple.
A closer look
shows us that he is holding a glass with his right hand,
and he has a newspaper folded flat underneath his left.
The front page, no doubt full of news of the war.
It is unclear who this random glass is for.
Maybe it’s for us?
Along with everyone else,
the waiter is not conversing
or even making eye contact with anyone else.
He is just staring out of the window.
Ever since he painted Nighthawks,
people have tried to work out
the exact location of the real diner.
Following hints the artist gave in various interviews,
people spent months trudging around New York
That’s because the diner
never was in New York.
It was always in the same place
– inside Edward Hopper’s head.
Hopper was a fan of Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers”
which is considered an inspiration for Nighthawks.
It tells the story of two thugs,
who enter a diner in search of their next victim.
The classic 1946 movie version,
was in turn inspired by Hopper’s Nighthawks.
The quintessentially American artist
that quintessentially American art form, loved Hopper.
He often went to the cinema alone at night
in search of inspiration.
Film-noir was a primary influence
and we can see this
in what many consider to be the first film-noir,
released one year before he completed Nighthawks.
It is said that while shooting “Force of Evil”,
the director took the cinematographer
to an exhibition of Edward Hopper’s works,
and said, that he wanted the picture
to look like those paintings.
Hopper said that even his early works,
may have been influenced
by German Expressionist cinema he saw in Paris.
When it comes to the filmmakers themselves,
A new generation of filmmakers
would pay homage to Hopper’s use of:
High contrast lighting,
his American settings of anonymous apartments
diners and bars,
by his extreme cropping
and decentralized framing.
But in particular,
they would be inspired by the characters he painted.
Characters, waiting for their stories to be told.
was faithfully recreated for the movies.
With the diner becoming a shortcut to emotional dysfunction.
Nighthawks, like the best movie,
is not just about composition and style,
it is a masterwork
that in a single frame
can suggest to us a narrative that stretches far beyond
the picture plane.
Hopper: “It’s probably
a reflection of my own
– I may say loneliness
– i don’t know”.
With Nighthawks, Edward Hopper
captures a world of loneliness,
isolation and quiet anguish.
The painting, an immediate success,
was bought by the Art Institute of Chicago,
where it still is today.
Hopper, the quiet man of American painting,
projected an “everyman” image,
but he was a complicated and troubled man.
He was an intellectual,
who struggled to find inspiration,
and grappled with meaning.
His works took months of preparation and hard work,
and he only produced about five paintings a year. Sometimes less.
He often felt like an outsider himself.
At six foot five, he was an exceptionally tall man,
and by the age of 12 he was already six foot tall.
A fact that certainly contributed to his growing sense of
isolation and loneliness.
Painfully shy, he was a loner from an early age.
This continued into adulthood,
and he was deeply introverted
and uncomfortable in social situations.
When he married Jo,
it would seem that his years of loneliness were over.
But as many people discover,
you can be in a relationship,
and still be utterly alone.
Hopper’s paintings demonstrate to us,
that these feelings are normal.
That loneliness or feelings of isolation are commonplace.
his paintings show us – that actually we are not alone.