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Inspired by a Greenwich Village restaurant, Nighthawks, an oil-on-canvas painting by Edward Hopper, is Hopper's most famous and recognizable work in American art. Completed in January 1942, the painting depicts a waiter and three other patrons sitting in a downtown restaurant late at night on a deserted New York street corner. As Hopper was born and lived in New York, he chose this Greenwich Village restaurant as his subject. See more
Nighthawks was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago shortly after its completion, and remains there as a great reflection of American history.
Instead of meaningful interactions, the four characters inside the restaurant in Edward Hopper's Nighthawks are involved in a series of near misses. The man and woman could touch hands, but they don't. The waiter and the smoker could be in the same room. The waiter and the smoker could be conversing, but they are not. The couple could be engaging in conversation with the man in front of them, but we know he won't. And then we realise that Hopper has placed us, the viewer, on the city street, with no door to enter the restaurant, yet in a position to assess each of the people inside. We see the row of empty stools closest to us. We notice that no one is making eye contact with anyone. Up close, the waiter's face seems to have an expression of horror or pain. And then there is a chilling revelation: each of us is completely alone in the world.
Edward Hopper is one of the major figures of the American realist movement, with paintings such as House by the Railroad (1925) and Nighthawks (1942).
Born in 1882 in New York State, Edward Hopper entered the prestigious New York School of Art after his secondary education. He moved to New York in 1908 where he was hired as an illustrator for advertising campaigns. He soon tired of the job and exhibited paintings in his spare time. See more
Around 1915, he painted scenes of American life and in 1920, he presented his first exhibition at the Whitney Studio Club, which was a great success. In 1924 he married Josephine Verstille Nivison.
His particular style, made of simple forms and rather dark colours, plays on the contrasts between light and shadow. Hopper managed to diversify his realistic approach, with staged landscapes, sometimes urban and sometimes rural. The characters he paints often inspire an impression of solitude and exclusion. Most of his oil paintings reflect a country in the throes of economic and social change. In 1945, Edward Hopper was admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received numerous awards and honours, including the title of Doctor of Fine Arts from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1955.