Painting: Nighthawks, By Edward Hopper Essay

2601 words - 10 pages

Edward Hopper exemplifies the zenith of 20th century American Realism. After training under Robert Henri at the New York School of Art, Hopper worked as a commercial illustrator for the first half of his life. In fact, although Hopper sold a variety of prints and watercolors on the side, he did not achieve his first artistic success until he was forty-three. At the Rehn Gallery in 1924, all of Hopper's works on display were purchased. From that point on, Hopper's use of light, isolation, and narrative in his works would define him. Hopper's impact was so dramatic that Alfred Hitchcock would later use his painting, The House by the Railroads, for inspiration on his classic film, Psycho ("Edward Hopper"). Nighthawks is Edward Hopper's most famous work. The title itself refers to the night-going characters that reside in the painting, sitting at the table of a diner. This painting is an American classic, appearing in the pop culture of its time and in examples that are more current. Just by doing a quick search on Google images, an abundance of parodies can be found, replacing the figures in the original with ones from Star Wars, The Simpsons, CSI, and more recently, The Walking Dead. There is no doubt that Hopper has affected the American art scene with this masterpiece, and there are numerous reasons it has become so prominent. Edward Hopper's distinguished painting, Nighthawks, is a representation of the pinnacle of the American realism, the attitude of Americans during the Second World War, and the expansion of New York City.
On display at the Art Institute of Chicago, Nighthawks is an oil and canvas work that represents Edward Hopper at his most iconic and popular. Hopper more than often drew on his immediate surroundings for inspiration, usually New York City and Cape Cod. Hopper drew Nighthawks, in his own words, from "a restaurant on New York's Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet" ("Edward Hopper"). Though the building that inspired the masterpiece is no longer standing, the diner that he depicted lives on. At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss the subject as uninteresting. However, the trademark tension between light and shadow immediately draws in the viewer. Another distinctive element of Nighthawks is the distance Hopper places, both literally and figuratively, between the viewer and the four subjects framed within the diner. Although Hopper's interests lay more in the play of light than in human subjects, the scene created by the interaction between the characters is rich in narrative possibilities. It should be noted that the angle chosen for the point of view does not include an entryway for the diner. These four people, drawn together by some circumstance, seem trapped within the glass walls. The couple in the background hunch over the cherry wood counter, their faces tired and disinterested. Hopper used his personal style of realism to convey a general opinion about American life during his time.
American realism was an...

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