nighthawk by edward hopper analysis
It has been described as Hopper’s best-known work  and is one of the most recognizable paintings in American art.   Within months of its completion, it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago on May 13, 1942, for $3,000. 
Nighthawks has been widely referenced and parodied in popular culture. Versions of it have appeared on posters, T-shirts and greeting cards as well as in comic books and advertisements.  Typically, these parodies—like Helnwein’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which became a popular poster  —retain the diner and the highly recognizable diagonal composition but replace the patrons and attendant with other characters: animals, Santa Claus and his reindeer, or the respective casts of The Adventures of Tintin or Peanuts. 
Edward Hopper, a major contributor to American art of the 20th century, is best-known for his edgy genre paintings, many of which could easily be stills from a movie. Consisting mostly of commonplace urban scenes, featuring no more than two or three individuals, and few if any distractions, they capture the isolation of city life like no other form of modern art in America. Inspired by street photography and movies (he was an ardent moviegoer), Hopper was also a fan of Impressionism and its focus on ‘the moment’, something he encountered on two visits to Paris in 1906 and 1909. In addition to his signature style of city painting, he produced some outstanding coastal views – see, for instance, The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) at Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Although a long-term resident of New York, Hopper was born and raised in the small upstate town of Nyack, and is associated with American Scene painting – a style characterized by its use of specifically American imagery. Undoubtedly one of the greatest 20th century painters of America, he created a whole new vision of the individual in the city and revitalized the modern genre painting in the process.
The picture took about six weeks to complete and was completed on January 21st, 1942. Within months it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000. After gallery commission fees and costs, Hopper’s share was just under $2,000.
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, Jo.) 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 Nighthawks “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”
Night + brilliant interior of cheap restaurant. Bright items: cherry wood counter + tops of surrounding stools; light on metal tanks at rear right; brilliant streak of jade green tiles 3/4 cross canvas at base of glass of window curving at corner. Light walls, dull yellow ocre [sic] door into kitchen right. Very good looking blond boy in white (coat, cap) inside counter. Girl in red blouse, brown hair eating sandwich. Man night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette. Other figure dark sinister back at left. Light side walk outside pale greenish. Darkish red brick houses opposite. Sign across top of restaurant, dark Phillies 5c cigar. Picture of cigar. Outside of shop dark, green. Note: bit of bright ceiling inside shop against dark of outside street at edge of stretch of top of window.
The diner in Hopper’s painting was apparently based on a real establishment in Greenwich Village; however, disputes over its legitimacy continue to give rise to heated discussions. Although now a vacant site, the diner was said to have sat between two streets; Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue South.
Despite the lack of reflection from the luminous glow of a phone screen, the diners’ gazes still remain vacant, unfocussed and unmet. Nighthawks depicts not only the bitter alienation of living in a large city, but the paranoia that gripped the United States after the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Anxieties over a second attack shrouded the city like the frequent blackout drills New York and its residents were subjected to. We, as viewers, become silent voyeurs, watching the stony expressions of Hopper’s unreachable subjects through the window. With no door to enter the diner, we are left outside, embodying the underrepresented role of the lonely New Yorker blinded by phosphorescent hues.
Many Americans must have felt such vulnerability with a special acuteness at the time Hopper finished painting Nighthawks, “the weeks and days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when everyone in New York City was paranoid about another attack.” Everyone, that is, except Edward Hopper, who kept his studio light on and kept on painting beneath it. “The future was very uncertain at this moment in time, as uncertain as the darkness that frames the patrons of this diner, a darkness they’re launched into by Hopper’s composition and our gaze.” Some might say that times, in America and elsewhere, haven’t become much more certain since. We, like Hopper, could do much worse than continuing to create ever more deliberately, and to see ever more clearly.
But Puschak wouldn’t have experienced the early 1940s first-hand, much less the turn-of-the-century period in which Hopper grew up. Nor would have most of the people captivated by Nighthawks today, much less those countless appreciators as yet unborn. How does Hopper, in his most famous painting and many others, at once capture a time and a place while also resonating on a deeper, more universally human level?