Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Art of Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942

“In general it can be said that a nation's art is greatest when it most reflects the character of its people.”--Edward Hopper

Nighthawks is the painting Hopper is famous for.  You've seen it, or you've seen the knockoffs.  The ones where it's Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis or maybe James Dean behind the counter.  But the knockoffs are all wrong because they missed it.  They zoomed in close so you can see the faces of famous dead people. 

The real Nighthawks is different.  It takes you a minute to realize how late at night it is because the artificial light from the diner throws you.  It's late and you're outside on the sidewalk.  Outside looking in.  That's the loneliness of it.  Not the picture, but the viewpoint.  City life, where you're surrounded by a million people, is lonely.  That's why the people in the diner are there, chasing away the ghosts and the long night with a cup of coffee and a little conversation.
New York Movie by Edward Hopper 1939
The truth is that Hopper was an accomplished watercolor artist who handled sunlight very effectively.  But for me, Hopper will always be oils and cities.  The late-shift world of cab drivers, waitresses and security guards.  The night hawks.

(Learn more about Edward Hopper at and the National Gallery ofArt.  Pictures from

(Side note:  Some people think Ernest Hemingway's short story "The Killers," which took place in a diner, was the inspiration for the painting Nighthawks.  I'm not sure that's accurate, but it's a great story, and a great painting.)

1 comment:

  1. One of the sessions at my writing course last semester was to interpret a Hopper painting and tell the story. Good stuff, Mark.