Visual Analysis Edward Hopper NightHawks Essay

Edward Hopper was born on the 22nd July 1882 in Nyack, New York. He came from a middle class family, and had an older sister named Marian. Like most famous painters he enjoyed drawing from a young age, and at the age of ten signatures were found on his work. He showed an interest in the artists Gustav Dore and Phil May, whose Illustrations he’d copy eagerly. From his early teens he was already working with a range of mediums such as charcoal, ink and oil paints. He sold his first signed oil painting when he was 13 entitled Rowboat in Rocky cove. He attended a private school and Nyack High school where he graduated at 17 years of age. His parents had always supported and encouraged his art so when he told them he wanted to study painting at university there were no objections, only that Illustration or Commercial art would offer more financial security. So he enrolled in the Correspondence school of Illustrating But decided to transfer a year later to Chase school and switched to painting.

Hopper died at the age of 84 leaving behind him a body of about 3000 paintings. The majority of his paintings are viewpoints which seem to always include women. When taking a closer look , there is a vulnerability in many of the women but you are never really able to place your finger on whether they are in a state of loneliness solitude or desolation. This is a reoccurring theme throughout Hoppers work. Ideas of gender roles run through my head in that in his paintings women are always seen as the inferior counterpart to men. For example his paintings Hotel by the rail road, Office at night and The barber shop.

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Nighthawks an oil painting he is very well-known for and probably his most famous. It was created is 1942 and was said to be inspired by ‘A restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets met. When looking at it from a technical point of view, you can tell the composition has been carefully constructed. It has been painted from the view of a passer-by, which has been done purposefully so that the viewer is able to get an anterior view of the situation in the restaurant whilst being able view the contrasting exterior of the street. This is quite common of Hopper who shows a similar arrangement in the painting New York office. American sociologist Sennett says that “One reason for the demise of the public realm is that large windows make rooms visually transparent while still erecting a barrier to the outside” He calls this “The paradox of isolation in the midst of visibility” which is clearly shown in this painting.

When further analysing the painting, themes of vulnerability arise again as, all 4 subjects look lost in their own worlds. There is a lack of communication between any of the subjects and to us as viewers, also the use of colour doesn’t open up to any analysis into the situation which creates the idea of privacy in that sense, which goes back into Sennett’s term “ Isolation in the midst of visibility” Hopper has denied that he consciously placed themes of loneliness, isolation and emptiness in his paintings but he acknowledged of Nighthawks that, “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city”.

Night hawks now hangs in Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.

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