Nighthawks (1942) by Edward Hopper (American, 1882-1967)The Art Institute of Chicago
Created in 1942, this piece is one of the most famous works of the 20th century. Painted with oils, it was an instant classic, selling for $3,000 (around $43,200 today) within months of completion.
The large artwork measures around 33 1/8 ins by 60 ins, or roughly 2.75 ft by 5 ft. This substantial size allows the viewer to become completely immersed in the image. It also helps to bring the characters featured in the painting to life and give them a real presence.
Set at night, when the streets are deserted and most shops, cafes and restaurants have closed for the day, the scene is illuminated by artificial light from a large commercial window. No other light sources are visible, something that helps to draw the viewer’s attention to the 4 figures at the center of the scene.
Of the 4 figures featured in the painting, 3 are male and 1 is female. Two of the men were actually modelled on the artist himself who used a mirror to trace the outline of his silhouette and create these memorable characters. The female figure was modelled on the artist’s wife, making this masterpiece very much a family affair.
The figures in the painting are huddled around the counter of a late night diner. Although located physically close to each other, there is a definite distance between them. The artist gives the impression that most of the characters are lost in their own thoughts. Something that gives the scene a slight melancholy feel.
The evocative feel of the diner has led many to believe that it’s based on a real location. And although the artist never said for definite if the café was real or not, he did let slip that it “Was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet.”
So, have you managed to piece together the clues to discover the identity of this famous painting?
Answer: ‘The Nighthawks’
Painted by legendary US artist Edward Hopper in 1942, The Nighthawks has gone down as one of the most iconic American paintings of all time. Purchased by the Chicago Institute of Art just months after it was completed, it’s been on display at the gallery ever since.
According to Hopper’s wife – who carefully documented the creation of the painting – The Nighthawks probably takes its name from the central male character. She wrote “Man night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette.” This implies that the painting is named for this aquiline-nosed patron.
Over the years, the painting has inspired a huge number of artists including Banksy, George Segal, Tom Waits, Wim Wenders and Ridley Scott.
Although the location of The Nighthawks is probably an amalgamation of a number of different places, Hopper himself said his main inspiration was a diner on the corner of Greenwich Avenue. Take a look around to see if you can spot the probable location of the painting.
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper