Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (Painting) 1942 Analysis


            The painting ‘Nighthawks’ painted by Edward Hopper in 1942 expresses / shows mood swings; solitude and unhappiness. These emotions are exhibited by any individual / non-communicating figures. Hopper said: `I didn’t see it as particularly lonely… Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.’ The impact of the painting inserts to the psychological thinking of its viewers. The painting was similar to de Chirico’s Metaphysical paintings. While de Chirico focuses on making unreal paintings real, Hopper was able to make his paintings familiar and concrete.

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Nighthawks portray people in a diner set late at night (see Figure 1). Nighthawk is synonymous to Night Owl, meaning a person usually stays up during the night. The background was displayed by an eating establishment demolished in Greenwich Village (home neighborhood of Edward Hopper in Manhattan).

In the painting, the emotion of gloominess / dreariness was portrayed. This was also the scenario after the demolition of the place. The street was empty. Inside the diner, none of the customers were chatting or interacting with each other, all are lost in their own thoughts. Two couple, the diner’s attendant and the mysterious man were portrayed in the painting.

The couple’s noses look likes beaks, reflecting to the title, Nighthawks / Night Owl. The old man working in a diner, appears to be staring out the window watching the customers come and go. The age of the diner’s attendant is uncertain. The corner of the diner is bended. The glass is adhering to the foundation of the eating establishment. The glass displays clear view of the restaurant from the outside. Transversely, the street on the second store is described with open windows. The light from the eating establishment seems to come out onto the street outside. The silver of its light shed its ways out of the windows. The weather was observed to be fine / okay. The warm weather shows why there were no overcoats / jackets in of the clothing of the patrons. The woman in the painting wore short sleeves.

Figure 1. Nighthawk by Edward Hopper (1942)

            The painting in other perspective portrays typical (modern) urban life in United States where living sometimes is weary. Weariness was exemplified by the man behind the counter because of the couple next to him. The emptiness outside the restaurant shows how different life in the night.

If one looks closely to the painting, there are only three walls of the counter form a triangle, trapping the old man, accordingly, there us no way out of the restaurant. In addition, there is no door leading to the outside. This illustrates the concept of confinement and entrapment.

            At the time Nighthawk was crafted, fluorescent lights had been invented. Conversely, this explains why the light in the restaurant is shedding a strange glow outside. Phillies cigar was featured on top of the eating establishment for advertisement.

            Hopper intended to show the emptiness of a modern urban city. The painting put on view no signs of life in it. Digging to a deeper meaning of the painting, Nighthawk appeals not only to the loneliness in the big-city but also loneliness experienced by us. Relating to human existence, people wanted to have someone to talk to, to eat in somebody’s company, and someone you can rely on. People wanted to have a companion because he / she himself / herself cannot stand weariness and being alone. Most of us wanted to have a boyfriend / girlfriend / husband / wife. Perhaps it is easy to conquer loneliness but in reality it is difficult.

            We would expect the light from the restaurant seems to be entertaining, it is intended to. The extreme brightness in the diner suggesting that the characters inside are unprotected. They were unprotected from the environment outside.

            Hopper illustrates his work of “three characters”. The man behind the counter is a habitual citizen with job and home. Although the characters were confined in a triangle, the characters were actually free and the customers of the diner can come and go. Nighthawks pertain to the customers.

            Nighthawks reflect the characters living during nighttime. The characters reflect the sociable individuals. They enjoy each others company. The darkness in New York (the setting) suggests desolation as displayed by the facial expressions of the characters. Paradoxically, the characters suggest no sign of interaction and / or communication to each other. Nighthawks were described as sociable birds.

            Hopper felt the insensitivity of the people towards an individual. People are strangers to the others. This shows no concern to them. In reality, the world does picture loneliness, cruelty insensitivity, and lack of sympathy to each other. People wanted relationship / interaction to people for their benefit; of companion, money, and living. People adhere to somebody’s wealth and fame. Conversely, your friends will leave your company if they find somebody with greater benefits than you.


Space and Volume

            A large expanse of negative space is the most obvious compositional device used to create a mood. The volume created in the painting illustrates the emptiness and loneliness in the big city and / or diner. The space created between the couple and the man illustrates isolation of people in a crowded city.

Color and Value

            The intensity / vividness of the color used in the painting reflect to the time of the day where the scenario happened. The used of bright colors and intense light creates a midnight time. The used of reflection indicates illumination from the diner.

The artist / painter invite the viewer to imagine a story that explains the scene. The used of light, value, contrast, and gesture helps us understand the expressive features of the painting. The painting organizes the viewer’s thoughts to ask queries through the overall picture of the scene illustrated in the painting.


            The artist used oil in canvas in the painting ‘Nighthawks’. The used of oil as a modeling medium generates a softer, more malleable quality of the painting. The texture is preserved in used of reinforced concrete since; it spans greater distances and support greater weight of the painting.



            Unity is established in this painting primarily through the application of linear and curvilinear perspective. Specifically, the combination of the elements of design adds through and enhances the quality of the painting. The used of intense colors, outsize volume and space produces the time and motion the painter needed in his painting. The unity created in the painting ‘Nighthawks’ successfully meets the organizational principles of the visual arts and conveys the meaning of the painting.

Balance and Proportion

            The artist created an asymmetrical balance in his painting. Although asymmetrical, the artist was able to put the center of interest to the diner through placement in the format. The diner close to the center can be balance by the outside street close to the center.

Focal Point

            Public images provide alternative viewpoints of significant events, people, and developments, occurring in the society. The painting helps us understand how the visual arts shape and reflect history, society, and culture. In the painting, the scenario in the diner reflects the society in 1942, the life in the big city in the night time, and the emptiness of the people.


             It seems that the painting is recurrently moving. The used of lines illustrates how the elements creates illusion towards the viewers. In the painting, the couple, old man, and the attendant seem to be moving and show interaction with each other.


            The painting (Nighthawk) exemplifies an expression of the painter towards his works. The painting describes loneliness, cruelty, unkindness of the people. In Edwards Hopper’s mind, he felt being alone and isolated in his every day life. (This reflects the background and environment of the painter). In this painting, viewers reflect to their seclusion in their family, love life, and personal upbringings. People wanted to make a company and being alone leads to weariness. In actuality, people seek for companionship. People seek to gather friends, and someone’s company. Hopper (may) wanted us to realized this fact and make out actions to resolve this predicament. Hopper (may) not only wanted to express his thoughts but also wanted us to be tough through these challenges in life.


Hopper, E. (1942). Nighthawks. Retrieved October 8, 2007 from the Institute of Chicago database.


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Nighthawks by Edward Hopper (Painting) 1942 Analysis. (2017, Apr 17). Retrieved from