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Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks”

Analysis and Reflection

  • Name of the painting: “Nighthawks”
  • Name of the artist: Edward Hopper
  • Date created: 1942
  • Image of the painting:
Nighthawks
Figure 1. “Nighthawks,” 1942 (Miglieri, 2019, p. 13).

Edward Hopper is an outstanding American artist whose unique style vividly depicted the realities and specific features of American life in the middle of the 20th century. The time when the artist worked was set in the modernist era marked by the emergence and development of such movements as surrealism and abstract expressionism (Martinique, 2018). These movements appeal to expressing an inner state of mind using the abstract depiction of unconventional forms, mixing colors and shapes that are often exaggerated. However, despite the high popularity of surrealistic and abstract movements in modern art, Hopper’s style’s uniqueness was defined by his realistic, or even “hyper-realistic,” style (Miglieri, 2019, para. 11). The analyzed painting was created under several influences that determine its content and the overall meaning.

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Firstly, one should identify the manifestations of subject influences. The painting presents the viewers with a scene from a night restaurant in an empty street of an American city. People sitting at the counter and the overall setting of the picture are the subjects of the artistic work, which is typical of the American social life reality of the 1940s. Although no remarkable details that would indicate the actual city or place where these people are, the minor artistic elements indicate that the setting is relatable to any American. Such details as coffee, salt, and pepper next to napkins on the counter, and the overall interior of the room imply that the viewers will recognize the subject as familiar and relate to the content of the artistic work. Therefore, the influence of the subject is particularly vivid in Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks.”

Secondly, the historical influences are of great significance to “Nighthawks,” which is related to the time when it was created, 1942. It was the year of the peak of World War II when the United States, as well as the rest of the world, were impacted by fear, isolation, and alienation. There is evidence that the painting was finished around the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbour, which sheds light on the particularities of the meaning of the painting (Martinique, 2018). Indeed, the distance between the people portrayed in the picture implies alienation that was dominating in the society of that time.

The war-related history finds its reflection in Hopper’s depiction of the empty streets and empty windows of the building next to the café (Martinique, 2018). Despite a highly realistic capturing of the setting and the people, there is much uncertainty about the painting, such as the people’s relations, the reasons they are at the restaurant at such a late hour. Such uncertainties go in accord with the complexity and instability of the social and political situation in the time of war. Moreover, the feelings of loneliness and isolation emerge in a spectator when he or she observes the dark street in contrast to the bright room or as he or she cannot see a door leading inside or out of the building.

The research of information on Edward Hopper and his painting helped me notice more details in the picture and understand the purpose and meaning the artist intended to convey. Upon completing this assignment, I managed to understand the importance of context in interpreting a work of art. The historical background, the influence of artistic movements and dominating themes, and the painter’s personality comprise a substantial framework within which art must be perceived.

References

Martinique, E. (2018). What makes the Edward Hopper Nighthawks painting so recognizable? Widewalls. Web.

Miglieri, A. (2019). Night windows: Portraits of loneliness in the frames of Edward Hopper and film noir [Thesis]. Web.

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