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Saturday, 25 June 2011

Edward Hopper: Nighthawks, 1942- the loneliness of a large city

Edward Hopper (1882–1967), Nighthawks, 1942, AIC


Edward Hopper said that Nighthawks was inspired by a "restaurant on New York's Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet." The “empty triangular lot” where Greenwich meets 11th Street and Seventh Avenue, otherwise known as Mulry Square. But the image - with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative - has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale. One of the best-known images of the twentieth-century art, the painting depicts an all-night diner in which three customers, all lost in their own thoughts, have congregated. Hopper's understanding of the expressive possibilities of light playing upon the simplified shapes gives the painting its beauty. Fluorescent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night diner emits an eerie glow, like a beacon on the dark street corner. Hopper eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless wedge of glass. 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 the artist's wife, Jo Hopper.) Hopper denied that he purposefully infused this or any other of his paintings with symbols of human isolation and urban emptiness, but he acknowledge of Nighthawks that "unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city."

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