Oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.)
s.l.r. Edward Hopper, American, 1882-1967
“What an image of big-city loneliness”, I thought, when I saw the “Nighthawks” in August, 2014, in the Art Institute of Chicago. In this oil canvas, Edward Hopper uses unexpected camera angles, carefully constructed composition, and dramatic chiaroscuro effects to portray a urban scene of a diner in which three customers, all lost in their own thoughts, have congregated in a late night. Hopper chose to paint a scene located at a sharply angled street-corner, which offered him the opportunity to display his subjects from a nearly frontal point of view. Relying largely on horizontal and vertical shapes, Hopper has placed the viewers on a deserted street and looking into an all-night diner, which is visible through its glass window. This painting also shows Hopper’s ambitious effort in capturing the nighttime effects of manmade light. To the left of the painting, which is outside of the dinner, the street is clean but empty. The glare of fluorescent light flooding the diner is the only light that illuminates the painting. In the absence of a streetlamp, the light spills into the night through both windows onto both sides of the street corner. The line of shadow on the sidewalk caused by the upper edge of the diner window is clearly visible and dominated by dull colors. This fluorescent light also throws a series of cast shadows onto the opposite apartment buildings, which has a row of windows with the blinds half down, but ultimately draws our attention back to the men and woman inside the diner. Inside the diner, the bar counter and the men’s suits are also dull. The two brightly colored spots in the entire interior are the white outfit worn by the server and the female customer’s red blouse. Indeed, her red blouse and lipstick represent the only use of red in the entire composition, causing her to stand out from everything else in the painting.
The figures are almost photographic in their portrayal. When one looks closely at the heads of the man and woman facing…