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Edward Hopper

The painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper is often described as timeless and univeral. It shows three customers and a waiter in an all-night diner, but none of these ‘night owls’ portrayed here appear to talk to each other. The fluorescent lighting, which was a new development in American restaurants in the 1940s, as well as the empty sidewalk and diner’s glass facade without a visible entrance all add to the impression that this is a depiction of anonymity in open spaces, or in other words: isolation in crowded urban areas. The painting’s immediate accessibility, outside its original context, became apparent during the Covid-19 pandemic when the image itself and its various imitations and parodies were shared online in response to widespread calls to stay at home and self-isolate as much as possible.

In the classroom, this painting could serve either as a simple visual cue or as a full-blown case study to practice describing and interpreting a painting. The artwork also lends itself to creative-writing tasks as it provides a specific entry point but leaves room for various stories including the customers, the waiter, or passers-by. The painting is in the public domain.

· · 1942

Critical edition

Hopper, Edward. Nighthawks. 1942, Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL.

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In favour of this entry

  • Addresses current affairs
  • Award-winning
  • Classic
  • Students can identify with the text