Nighthawks: Edward Hopper, 1942, Oil on Canvas, 33.1 x 60″
The viewer must really look into deep into this painting to discover its secrets. Look. You will gradually begin to notice a number of things that you may not have spotted straight away. I was drawn to Nighthawks because of this sense of mystery. Painted at the height of the Second World War, in 1942, this piece is a perspicuous expression of wartime isolation.
The surrounding streets feel cold and alienated, the only source of brightness coming from the diner’s vast windows, a harsh yellow light seeping through the glass and onto the pavement. In a window across the street it obliquely and uncannily illuminates a lone cash register.
Inside are four figures, the picture’s only human presence. Listen. You can almost grasp the quiet, muffled conversation. Then, suddenly, it strikes you—where is the door? How did the four enter and how will they leave?
You think about them, sitting there, within the diner’s walls and windows and of how they came to be there. An array of unsolved questions floods into your mind. The (we assume) couple, the waiter, the man sitting on his own—what are their stories?