The Nighthawks are considered Edward Hopper’s most famous work and an important painting in American art. The artwork depicts three customers gathered in a restaurant, each preoccupied with their own thoughts. Once they did, the Nighthawks became an instant classic and caught the attention of Daniel Rich, who was the director of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Edward Hopper was an American born in New York City on July 22, 1882. At the age of five, Hopper showed drawing skills and was encouraged by his parents. As a teenager, he experimented with oil, charcoal, pencil and watercolor, and made his first signed oil painting in 1895. He attended art classes at the New York School of Art and Design, where he specialized in oil on canvas. Hopper initially faced challenges in defining his individual style. The first sale of Hopper’s painting took place at the Armory Show in 1913 and gained some recognition for his numerous etchings. Hopper’s career began in the early 1920s, at the time he married Josephine Nivison, who ran his career. Six of his watercolors in Gloucester were accepted by the museum for exhibition, and the museum subsequently bought the Attic as well. Hopper’s works mostly depicted urban and rural scenes according to American realism.
Hopper finished the painting on January 21, 1942, and wanted to call it the Night Hawks. He admitted the picture was inspired by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue in New York City, where two streets meet. He added that the restaurant has enlarged and also simplified the scene. At the time Hopper was painting the artwork, neon lights were a new development in America. The restaurant in the picture is bathed in an eerie glow and is clearly lit from multiple angles. Significant amounts of light are pouring from the sidewalk. The windows of the restaurant are painted with seamless glass and there is no entrance.
Current location and value
Hopper placed the artwork in the Rehn Gallery, where his paintings were usually offered for sale. Daniel Rich, who was then director of the Art Institute of Chicago, went to the gallery to visit the Nighthawks on the recommendation of Josephine Nivison, and when he saw her, he declared the play “fine as a homer”. Rich arranged for the museum to be purchased for $ 3,000. The painting currently belongs to the museum collection.
Night hawks are considered one of the most popular works of art of the 20th century. The life scene of the painting is widely imitated. Some of the photorealists who emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s were inspired by the Nighthawks. Ralph Goings, for example, modeled some of his Nighthawks restaurants. Gottfried Helnwein in the 1984 painting replaced restaurant characters with Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Elvis Presley and James Dean, all icons of popular culture in America. Several writers researched different scenarios to explain how diner shoppers teamed up that night, or even the events that followed, such as Wolf Wondratschek’s song titled “Nighthawks: After Edward Hopper’s Picture.” The image is also mentioned in film, on television, in music and opera.