One of my favorite, and I would argue, one of the most iconic paintings of the Twentieth century is Edward Hopper’s 1942 realist painting “Nighthawks”. The depiction of late night patrons at a downtown diner poses more questions than it answers.
Hopper’s inspiration for “Nighthawks” is thought to have come from a variety of sources including the location being a Greenwich Village (New York) restaurant – possibly off Greenwich Avenue – a Manhattan neighbourhood where Hopper lived and worked.
Hopper was a great admirer of Ernest Hemingway and his work may also have been inspirational. The author’s short story, “The Killers”, published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1927, focused on the predatory nature of a pair of violent youngsters approaching adulthood, who enter a restaurant looking for a boxer they are determined to kill.
Shortly after “Nighthawks” was completed in January 1942 and after a brief gallery appearance it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000 and it has remained in the Institute’s collection ever since.
Hopper, who was born in July 1882 and died in 1967, was an introvert who preferred his art to speak for itself. He is reported as having said “The whole answer is there on the canvas.”
This hugely well known painting has become itself both parodied and praised in many art forms including other paintings, cartoons, films and music. For me, Tom Waits’s 1975 album, “Nighthawks at the Diner” with its humorous tales of city dwellers is a classic and reverential homage.