Strangers in the Night
Oil on canvas
84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.)
Edward Hopper said that his masterpiece, Nighthawks, was inspired by “a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet,” but the image with its carefully constructed composition and lack of narrative has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale. One of the best-known images of twentieth-century art, the painting depicts an all-night diner in which three customers, all lost in their own thoughts, have congregated. Hopper’s understanding of the expressive possibilities of light playing on simplified shapes gives the painting its surreal beauty. Fluorescent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night diner emits an eerie glow, like a beacon on the dark street corner. Hopper eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless curvature of glass. The four anonymous and uncommunicative customers seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another. (The red-haired woman was actually modeled by the artist’s wife, Jo.) Whether purposefully or not, Hopper clearly infused in this painting (and other paintings of his, as well), symbols of human isolation and urban emptiness, although he claimed that in Nighthawks, the symbolisym was done "unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”
What's more, when you really look at the architectural details of the diner you begin to realize that it is a very odd design, indeed. There should 'logically' be more window casing and a pillar in the corner. The faces of the customers and worker perhaps lack certain detail, but anyone who has ever seen his drawings would know that he was very capable of rendering details of human figures. Of course this was all by choice; to create an effect. Look at the rest of the street, it's not just empty, it's desolate, like this part of town has been abandoned. He knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and just how to do it. It seems so simple, in a way, but as with all great art, it's about choice, which details to leave out, which to precisely render with an almost uncanny sense of knowing exactly what the painting would do. It does what all great art does, it inspires deep emotion in the viewer and is evocative in much the same way that DeChirico was able to do with his Metaphysical paintings.