Friday, June 19, 2009

"Night Hawks" by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper was born on July 22, 1882 in Nyack, New York. He is one of the most famous and greatest of the American artists. A realist painter, his works were were primarily of urban scenes and landscapes. An intensively private man, his paintings convey this sense of solitude.
He shown a talent for drawing at an early age and by 1899 decided to be artist. His parents persuaded him to study commercial art so he enrolled in the New York School of Illustration. In 1899 he transferred to the New York School of Art. It was here that studied under Robert Henri, one of the founders of the school of American Realism. Hopper himself said that Henri was the most influential teachers he had.
1906 he did what all artists want to do - study in France. But he was disappointed. The Modern Movement was in full force and Hopper could not relate to it. He himself claimed that it's effect on him was minimal. The one European artist to have influenced him a bit was Rembrandt,especially the painting The Night Watch. He travelled to other cities and made 2 more trips to Europe in 1909 and 1910. And although he often travelled during the rest of his life, he never went back to Europe again.
For a time he painted things he remembered from Europe but found little success so returned to what he was known for - American subjects. In 1913 he made his first sale but he was now 37 and began to doubt that he could make a living as an artist. He wanted to give up working as a commercial artist but couldn't. He discovered that prints were becoming popular so he began to make prints of his work which sold better than his paintings. He also began painting in watercolors for the same reason.
Hopper married at age 42 and this marked a turn in his fortunes. His paintings began selling. In 1924 his show at the Rehn Gallery was a sellout. In 1925 he painted what is considered his first fully mature picture, House by the Railroad. It is typical of the paintings he did from this point on. There is a modern bleakness and a sense of isolation here. At the same time there is a seemingly nostalgic regard for American puritan values of the past. There is also a theme of the loneliness of travel. (The Hoppers had begun to travel a great deal within the United States and Mexico.)
Hopper's star continued to rise and in 1929 and 1933 he had exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Both MOMA and the Whitney Museum bought his paintings for their permanent collections.
"Hopper became a pictorial poet who recorded the starkness and vastness of America. Sometimes he expressed aspects of this in traditional guise, as, for example, in his pictures of lighthouses and harsh New England landscapes; sometimes New York was his context, with eloquent cityscapes, often showing
deserted streets at night. Some paintings, such as his celebrated image of a gas-station, Gas (1940), even have elements which anticipate Pop Art. Hopper once said: 'To me the most important thing is the sense of going on. You know how beautiful things are when you're travelling.'
"He painted hotels, motels,
trains and highways, and also liked to paint the public and semi-public places where people gathered:restaurants, theatres,cinemas and offices. But even in these paintings he stressed the theme of loneliness - his theatres are often semi-deserted, with a few patrons waiting for the curtain to go up or the performers isolated in the fierce light of the stage. Hopper was a frequent movie-goer, and there is often a cinematic quality in his work. As the years went on, however, he found suitable subjects increasingly difficult to discover, and often felt blocked and unable to paint. His contemporary the painter Charles Burchfield wrote: 'With Hopper the whole fabric of his art seems to be interwoven with his personal character and manner of living.' When the link between the outer world he observed and the inner world of feeling and fantasy broke, Hopper found he was unable to create." (Lives of the Great 20th Century Artists by Edward Lucie- Smith)
Edward Hopper died May 15, 1967

Edward Hopper was my mother's favorite artist. She especially loved The Night Hawks. This painting, like many of his paintings, portrays a typical city scene. I am guessing that these paintings are more appreciated by city dwellers than non-city dwellers. I was born and raised in New York City and have walked by scenes just like this. It's the kind of painting that you can weave stories about. (The couple seem unhappy, together but not talking. Perhaps they just had an argument. The solitary man, maybe a gangster waiting for his contact. Or just a lonely man looking to be around other people.)

This painting has something in common with Van Gogh's Starry Night.Both have been popular with young people and both have become part of modern pop culture. The Night Hawks has been referenced in numerous films and tv shows (such as The Simpsons- right) as well as in music and literature. In the current movie Night at the Museum:The Smithsonian it is one of the paintings that comes to life.(although it actually hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago.

By the way, on the outside of the diner is an advertisement for Phillies cigars.

Edward Hopper began this painting right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The mood of the country was somber and gloomy. this feeling is captured in the painting.

The paintings below are: The Lighthouse at Two Lights (1929) which is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and New York Movie (1939). this hangs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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