Nighthawks (Hopper)

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Nighthawks by Edward Hopper 1942.jpg
ArtistEdward Hopper Edit this on Wikidata
Mediumoil paint, canvas
MovementAmerican realism Edit this on Wikidata
Dimensions84.1 cm (33.1 in) × 152.4 cm (60.0 in)
LocationArt Institute of Chicago
Accession No.1942.51 Edit this on Wikidata

Nighthawks is a 1942 oil on canvas painting by Edward Hopper that portrays four people in a downtown diner late at night as viewed through the diner's large glass window. The light coming from the diner illuminates a darkened and deserted urban streetscape.

It has been described as Hopper's best-known work[1] and is one of the most recognizable paintings in American art.[2][3] Within months of its completion, it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000.

About the painting[edit]

Nighthawks in the Art Institute of Chicago

It has been suggested that Hopper was inspired by a short story of Ernest Hemingway's, either "The Killers" (1927), which Hopper greatly admired,[4] or from the more philosophical "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place" (1933).[5] In response to a query on loneliness and emptiness in the painting, Hopper outlined that he "didn't see it as particularly lonely". He said "unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city".[6]

Josephine Hopper's notes on the painting[edit]

Starting shortly after their marriage in 1924, Edward Hopper and his wife Josephine (Jo) kept a journal in which he would use a pencil, make a sketch-drawing of each of his paintings, along with a detailed description of specific technical details. Jo Hopper would then add additional information about the theme of the painting.

A review of the page on which Nighthawks is entered shows (in Edward Hopper's handwriting) that the intended name of the work was actually Night Hawks and that the painting was completed on January 21, 1942.

Jo's handwritten notes about the painting give considerably more detail, including the possibility that the painting's title may have had its origins as a reference to the beak-shaped nose of the man at the counter or that the appearance of one of the "nighthawks" was tweaked to relate to the original meaning of the word:

Night + brilliant interior of cheap restaurant. Bright items: cherry wood counter + tops of surrounding stools; light on metal tanks at rear right; brilliant streak of jade green tiles 34 across canvas—at base of glass of window curving at corner. Light walls, dull yellow ocre [sic] door into kitchen right. Very good looking blond boy in white (coat, cap) inside counter. Girl in red blouse, brown hair eating sandwich. Man night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette. Other figure dark sinister back—at left. Light side walk outside pale greenish. Darkish red brick houses opposite. Sign across top of restaurant, dark—Phillies 5¢ cigar. Picture of cigar. Outside of shop dark, green. Note: bit of bright ceiling inside shop against dark of outside street—at edge of stretch of top of window.[7]

In January 1942, Jo confirmed her preference for the name. In a letter to Edward's sister Marion she wrote, "Ed has just finished a very fine picture—a lunch counter at night with 3 figures. Night Hawks would be a fine name for it. E. posed for the two men in a mirror and I for the girl. He was about a month and half working on it."[8]

Ownership history[edit]

Invoice showing $1,971 going to the artist after commission and costs

Upon completing the canvas in the late winter of 1941–42, Hopper placed it on display at Rehn's, the gallery at which his paintings were normally placed for sale. It remained there for about a month. On St. Patrick's Day, Edward and Jo Hopper attended the opening of an exhibit of the paintings of Henri Rousseau at New York's Museum of Modern Art, which had been organized by Daniel Catton Rich, the director of the Art Institute of Chicago. Rich was in attendance, along with Alfred Barr, the Museum of Modern Art director. Barr spoke enthusiastically of Gas, which Hopper had painted a year earlier, and "Jo told him he just had to go to Rehn's to see Nighthawks. In the event, it was Rich who went, pronounced Nighthawks 'fine as a [Winslow] Homer', and soon arranged its purchase for Chicago."[9] It was sold on May 13, 1942, for $3,000 (equivalent to $53,730 in 2022).[10]

Location of the restaurant[edit]

The scene was supposedly inspired by a diner (since demolished) in Greenwich Village, Hopper's neighborhood in Manhattan. Hopper himself said the painting "was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet". Additionally, he noted that "I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger".[11]

That reference has led Hopper fans to engage in a search for the location of the original diner. The inspiration for the search has been summed up in the blog of one of these searchers: "I am finding it extremely difficult to let go of the notion that the Nighthawks diner was a real diner, and not a total composite built of grocery stores, hamburger joints, and bakeries all cobbled together in the painter's imagination".[12]

The spot usually associated with the former location is a now-vacant lot known as Mulry Square, at the intersection of Seventh Avenue South, Greenwich Avenue, and West 11th Street, about seven blocks west of Hopper's studio on Washington Square. However, according to an article by Jeremiah Moss in The New York Times, that cannot be the location of the diner that inspired the painting because a gas station occupied that lot from the 1930s to the 1970s.[13]

Moss located a land-use map in a 1950s municipal atlas showing that "Sometime between the late '30s and early '50s, a new diner appeared near Mulry Square". Specifically, the diner was located immediately to the right of the gas station, "not in the empty northern lot, but on the southwest side, where Perry Street slants". That map is not reproduced in the Times article but is shown on Moss's blog.[14]

Moss concludes that Hopper should be taken at his word: the painting was merely "suggested" by a real-life restaurant, he had "simplified the scene a great deal", and he "made the restaurant bigger". In short, there probably never was a single real-life scene identical to the one that Hopper had created, and if one did exist, there is no longer sufficient evidence to pin down the precise location. Moss concludes, "the ultimate truth remains bitterly out of reach".[12]

In popular culture[edit]

Roger Brown's Puerto Rican Wedding (1969). Brown said the café in the lower left corner of this painting "isn't set up like an imitation of Nighthawks, but still refers to it very much."[15]

Because it is so widely recognized, the diner scene in Nighthawks has served as the model for many homages and parodies.

Painting and sculpture[edit]

Many artists have produced works that allude to or respond to Nighthawks.

Hopper influenced the Photorealists of the late 1960s and early 70s, including Ralph Goings, who evoked Nighthawks in several paintings of diners. Richard Estes painted a corner store in People's Flowers (1971), but in daylight, with the shop's large window reflecting the street and sky.[16]

More direct visual quotations began to appear in the 1970s. Gottfried Helnwein's painting Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1984) replaces the three patrons with American pop culture icons Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean, and the attendant with Elvis Presley.[17] According to Hopper scholar Gail Levin, Helnwein connected the bleak mood of Nighthawks with 1950s American cinema and with "the tragic fate of the decade's best-loved celebrities."[18] Nighthawks Revisited, a 1980 parody by Red Grooms, clutters the street scene with pedestrians, cats, and trash.[19] A 2005 Banksy parody shows a fat, shirtless soccer hooligan in Union Flag boxers standing inebriated outside the diner, apparently having just smashed the diner window with a nearby chair.[20] A large mural recreation of Nighthawks was painted on a defunct Chinese restaurant in Santa Rosa, California until the building was demolished in 2019.[21]


Several writers have explored how the customers in Nighthawks came to be in a diner at night, or what will happen next. Wolf Wondratschek's poem "Nighthawks: After Edward Hopper's Painting" imagines the man and woman sitting together in the diner as an estranged couple: "I bet she wrote him a letter/ Whatever it said, he's no longer the man / Who'd read her letters twice."[22] Joyce Carol Oates wrote interior monologues for the figures in the painting in her poem "Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, 1942".[23] A special issue of Der Spiegel included five brief dramatizations that built five different plots around the painting; one, by screenwriter Christoph Schlingensief, turned the scene into a chainsaw massacre. Michael Connelly,[24] Erik Jendresen and Stuart Dybek wrote short stories inspired by this painting.[25][26] John Koenig's The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows references Hopper's painting under the entry for "nighthawk".[27]


Hopper was an avid moviegoer and critics have noted the resemblance of his paintings to film stills. Nighthawks and works such as Night Shadows (1921) anticipate the look of film noir, whose development Hopper may have influenced.[28][29]

Hopper was an acknowledged influence on the film musical Pennies from Heaven (1981), for which production designer Ken Adam recreated Nighthawks as a set.[30] Director Wim Wenders recreated Nighthawks as the set for a film-within-a-film in The End of Violence (1997).[28] Wenders suggested that Hopper's paintings appeal to filmmakers because "You can always tell where the camera is."[31] In Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), two characters visit a café resembling the diner in a scene that illustrates their solitude and despair.[32] The painting was briefly used as a background for a scene in the animated film Heavy Traffic (1973) by director Ralph Bakshi.[33]

Nighthawks influenced the "future noir" look of Blade Runner; director Ridley Scott said "I was constantly waving a reproduction of this painting under the noses of the production team to illustrate the look and mood I was after".[34] In his review of the 1998 film Dark City, Roger Ebert noted the film had "store windows that owe something to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks."[35] Hard Candy (2005) acknowledged a similar debt by setting one scene at a "Nighthawks Diner" where a character purchases a T-shirt with Nighthawks printed on it.[36] The painting features in the 2009 movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, it comes to life through CGI animation with the characters reacting to events in the outside world.[37][38]


Theatre and opera[edit]


An establishing shot from "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment" (1997), one of several references to Nighthawks in the animated TV series The Simpsons[43]
  • The tv series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation placed its characters in a version of the painting.[44]
  • The show Fresh Off the Boat Season 2 poster features the title family in Nighthawks with actress Constance Wu using chopsticks.[45]
  • The closing scene of Turner Classic Movies (TCM)'s “Open All Night” intro sequence, which was used to open overnight movie presentations from 1994 to 2021, is based on Nighthawks.[46]
  • The US tv series Shameless features the Nighthawks painting in a late season 11 arc where Frank pulls off his final "ICOE" heist.[47]
  • In a season 1 episode of That '70s Show, Red and Kitty Forman, after a failed attempt to dine at a fancy restaurant, end up back at their usual diner. After Kitty comments that the scene seems familiar, the camera pulls back to reveal them as the couple seated at the counter in the painting.[43][48]

Scale model[edit]

Model railroaders, most notably John Armstrong, have recreated the scene on their layouts.[49] The theater lighting manufacturer Electronic Theatre Controls has a human-sized scale model of the diner in the lobby of their headquarters in Middleton, Wisconsin.[50]


Nighthawks has been widely referenced and parodied. Versions of it have appeared on posters, T-shirts and greeting cards as well as in comic books and advertisements.[51] Typically, these parodies—like Helnwein's Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which became a popular poster[18]—retain the diner and highly recognizable diagonal composition, but replace the patrons and attendant with other characters: animals, Santa Claus and his reindeer, or the respective casts of The Adventures of Tintin or Peanuts.[52]

One parody of Nighthawks even inspired a parody of its own. Michael Bedard's painting Window Shopping (1989), part of his Sitting Ducks series of posters, replaces the figures in the diner with ducks and shows a crocodile outside eying the ducks in anticipation. Poverino Peppino parodied this image in Boulevard of Broken Ducks (1993), in which a contented crocodile lies on the counter while four ducks stand outside in the rain.[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ian Chilvers and Harold Osborne (Eds.), The Oxford Dictionary of Art Oxford University Press, 1997 (second edition), p. 273, ISBN 0-19-860084-4 "The central theme of his work is the loneliness of city life, generally expressed through one or two figures in a spare setting - his best-known work, Nighthawks, has an unusually large 'cast' with four."
  2. ^ Hopper's Nighthawks, Smarthistory video, accessed April 29, 2013.
  3. ^ Brooks, Katherine (July 22, 2012). "Happy Birthday, Edward Hopper!". The Huffington Post., Inc. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  4. ^ Gail Levin in "Interview with Gail Levin"
  5. ^ Wagstaff 2004, p. 44
  6. ^ Kuh, Katherine (1962). "The Artist's Voice: Talks With Seventeen Artists". Harper & Row. p. 134. Retrieved January 15, 2021.
  7. ^ Deborah Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1997, p. 63
  8. ^ Jo Hopper, in a letter to Marion Hopper, January 22, 1942. Quoted in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography. New York: Rizzoli, 2007, p. 349.
  9. ^ Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography. New York: Rizzoli, 2007, pp. 351-2, citing Jo Hopper's diary entry for March 17, 1942.
  10. ^ The sale was recorded by Josephine Hopper as follows, in volume II, p. 95 of her and Edward's journal of his art: "May 13, '42: Chicago Art Institute - 3,000 + return of Compartment C in exchange as part payment. 1,000 - 1/3 = 2,000." See Deborah Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1997, p. 63.
  11. ^ Hopper, interview with Katharine Kuh, in The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Modern Artists. 1962. Reprinted, New York: Da Capo Press, 2000, p. 134.
  12. ^ a b Jeremiah Moss (June 10, 2010). "Jeremiah's Vanishing New York: Finding Nighthawks, Coda". Jeremiah's Vanishing New York. Retrieved March 4, 2013.
  13. ^ Moss, Jeremiah (July 5, 2010). "Nighthawks State of Mind". The New York Times. Retrieved May 22, 2013.
  14. ^ Moss, Jeremiah (June 9, 2010). "Finding Nighthawks, Part 3". Jeremiah's Vanishing New York (blog). Retrieved May 18, 2014.
  15. ^ Levin, 111–112.
  16. ^ Levin, Gail (1995), "Edward Hopper: His Legacy for Artists", in Lyons, Deborah; Weinberg, Adam D. (eds.), Edward Hopper and the American Imagination, New York: W. W. Norton, pp. 109–115, ISBN 0-393-31329-8
  17. ^ "Boulevard of Broken Dreams II". October 15, 2013. Archived from the original on July 4, 2009. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  18. ^ a b Levin, 109–110.
  19. ^ Levin, 116–123.
  20. ^ Jury, Louise (October 14, 2005), "Rats to the Arts Establishment", The Independent, archived from the original on June 21, 2022
  21. ^ "Prominent Santa Rosa murals to be demolished". Santa Rosa Press Democrat. January 16, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2020.
  22. ^ Gemünden, 2–5, 15; quotation translated from the German by Gemünden.
  23. ^ Updike, John (2005). "Hopper's Polluted Silence". Still Looking: Essays on American Art. New York: Knopf. p. 181. ISBN 1-4000-4418-9.. The Oates poem appears in the anthology Hirsch, Edward, ed. (1994), Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, Chicago, Illinois: Art Institute of Chicago, ISBN 0-8212-2126-4
  24. ^ McManus, Darragh (December 4, 2016). "Anthology inspired by Hopper's untold tales". The Independent. Retrieved January 14, 2023.
  25. ^ Gemünden, 5–6.
  26. ^ Janiczek, Christina (December 5, 2010). "Book Review: Coast of Chicago by Stuart Dybek". Retrieved March 24, 2016.
  27. ^ Koenig, John (2021). The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 47. ISBN 9781501153648.
  28. ^ a b Gemünden, Gerd (1998). Framed Visions: Popular Culture, Americanization, and the Contemporary German and Austrian Imagination. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. pp. 9–12. ISBN 0-472-10947-2.
  29. ^ Doss, Erika (1983), "Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, and Film Noir" (PDF), Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities, 2 (2): 14–36, archived from the original (PDF) on October 16, 2009
  30. ^ Doss, 36.
  31. ^ Berman, Avis (2007), "Hopper", Smithsonian, 38 (4): 4, archived from the original on July 11, 2007
  32. ^ Arouet, Carole (2001), "Glengarry Glen Ross ou l'autopsie de l'image modèle de l'économie américaine" (PDF), La Voix du Regard (14), archived from the original (PDF) on September 28, 2007
  33. ^ "Rotospective: Ralph Bakshi's Heavy Traffic is High on Detail, Consistency and Realism - Agent Palmer".
  34. ^ Sammon, Paul M. (1996), Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner, New York: HarperPrism, p. 74, ISBN 0-06-105314-7
  35. ^ "Dark City". Archived from the original on September 30, 2011. Retrieved July 16, 2011.
  36. ^ Chambers, Bill, "Hard Candy (2006), The King (2006)", Film Freak Central, archived from the original on September 26, 2007, retrieved August 5, 2007
  37. ^ "Deconstructing "Night at the Museum"". Unframed. May 28, 2009. Retrieved October 8, 2022.
  38. ^ "Five Charming Inaccuracies in 'Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian' DVD". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved October 8, 2022.
  39. ^ Thiesen, 10; Reynolds, E25.
  40. ^ "Biography". Voice of the Beehive Online. Archived from the original on October 11, 2011. Retrieved December 17, 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  41. ^ "Premiere: OMD, 'Night Café' (Vile Electrodes 'B-Side the C-Side' Remix)". Slicing Up Eyeballs. August 5, 2013. Retrieved September 25, 2013.
  42. ^ "Verdi's Rigoletto at ENO". Retrieved March 5, 2016.
  43. ^ a b Pai, Akshay (January 6, 2020). "Nighthawks: How one painting came to heavily influence pop-culture, TV, cinema, and music". MEAWW. Retrieved October 8, 2022.
  44. ^ Theisen, Gordon (2006), Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, p. 10, ISBN 0-312-33342-0
  45. ^ Slezak, Michael (September 11, 2015). "Fresh Off the Boat's Season 2 Poster: The Huangs Give Us an Art-Attack". TVLine. Retrieved September 16, 2015.
  46. ^ "Exopolis Revives Vintage Edward Hopper Inspired Promo for Turner Classic Movies". Dexigner. June 14, 2007. Retrieved August 9, 2020.
  47. ^ McNutt, Myles (March 28, 2021). "Shameless' end-of-life storytelling continues to disappoint, not that we expected otherwise". The A.V. Club. Retrieved April 21, 2021.
  48. ^ "Drive-In". That '70s Show. Season 1. Episode 8. November 15, 1998. Fox.
  49. ^ "And Now for Something Completely Different". O Gauge Railroading On-Line Forum. Retrieved September 18, 2015.
  50. ^ "et cetera... a blog of bright ideas from ETC". April 30, 2018.
  51. ^ Levin, 125–126. Reynolds, Christopher (September 23, 2006), "Lives of a Diner", Los Angeles Times, pp. E25
  52. ^ Levin, 125–126; Thiesen, 10.
  53. ^ Müller, Beate (1997), "Introduction", Parody: Dimensions and Perspectives, Rodopi, ISBN 904200181X


External links[edit]