One of the most respected American artists of the modern era is Edward Hopper (1882-1967). His most famous work Nighthawks. The name misleading. The painting easily recognizable. A diner late at night with three customers and a counterman. All at the counter. Two men and a woman seated. The counterman behind the counter.
The painting an oil on canvas.
It took Edward one and a half months to complete the painting. It was completed January 21, 1942. He then had the painting shown for sale at his dealer’s gallery.
Soon thereafter, Edward and his wife Josephine were were at a gallery showing by another artist. In attendance was Daniel Calton Rich. Rich was Director of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Josephine suggested Rich stop by the gallery showing her husband’s work and look at Nighthawks. She thought he would like it. He did. He purchased it for the Art Institute for $3,000. A lot of money at the time. In today’s dollars adjusted for inflation, $43,200.
The statement reflecting the sale shows that Edward’s net take from the sale was $1,971. The gallery’s commission was one third or $1,000. Out of pocket costs totaled $29.
The Art Institute has never sold the painting. Its present day value has to be in the millions. A Hopper painting not as popular East Wind Over Weehawken was sold by Christie’s in 2013 for $40.5 million.
Edward and Josephine married in 1924. They kept a journal of each of Edward’s paintings. Edward’s contribution was a pencil sketch of the painting and a precise description of technical details involved. Josephine’s was information about the theme of the painting and any interesting/helpful information.
The name Nighthawks is unusual when one considers the painting is of persons in a diner late at night. Nighthawks are birds.Their beaks are small sharp pointed bills.
In a letter to a relative, Josephine wrote that the name Nighthawks was in reference to one of the men sitting at the bar. The man next to the woman. He has a long sharp nose.
In another letter to Edward’s sister Marion, Josephine wrote that the subject for one customer and the counterman was Edward. He viewed himself in the mirror as he drew them. Josephine was the model for the woman.
The site of the diner is not certain. Experts agree it is in Manhattan. Some say on Greenwich Avenue. Edward at one time said it was the interior of a cheap restaurant which he simplified for the painting.
The diner and figures in Nighthawks are so widely recognized that subsequent works by others include some portions.
Gottfried Helnwein’s Boulevard of Dreams (1984) was somewhat of a replica. A spoof of Hopper’s Nighthawks. The persons in the painting were easily recognizable. The three customers were Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. The counterman, Elvis Presley.
Nighthawks appears in some form in novels, short stories and poems. Even movies. The movies include Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Pennies From Heaven, Deep Red, and Blade Runner.
A comic book cover also. Archie cover #649. It showed Archie, Jughead and Hotday eating at Pop Tate’s diner.
Hopper was influenced by early 1930 crime movies such as Scarface and Little Caesar. The darkness in Nighthawks represents that influence.
There is also a feeling of isolation. Represented by the few number of people and the diner having no door. Hopper was attempting to portray the feeling of loneliness one can have in a crowd. Especially in a city like New York. Hopper has been quoted as saying, “Unconsciously, probably I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”
Hopper was inspired by Hemingway’s 1927 short story The Killers. As to the diner setting. In the Killers, there is a corner restaurant scene. Hopper drew loneliness from it.
Musicians have been inspired by Nighthawks. Tom Waits’ Nighthawks At the Diner. Also, the song Masters and Angels whose setting is in a diner reminiscent of the one in Nighthawks.
Television has relied on Nighthawks for various scenes. CST: Crime Scene Investigation being one. Would you believe, the Simpson’s. All at a counter eating.
I love Turner Classic Movies. Watch the old films every day. Turner pays homage to Nighthawks in an introductory sequence. Look for it the next time Turner has the band rolling and scenes moving fast to introduce the next movie.
Why did I opt to write this week about Edward Hopper and Nighthawks?
Jack Baron was a longtime Key West friend. To know him was to love him. He was an artist. When I met him, he was already working out of his gallery in Square One.
Every morning, several of us would get together with Jack and his partner Bob to solve the world’s problems.
I had known Jack for several years. Though a collector, I never bought Jack’s paintings. They were local. Seldom do local paintings take off dollar wise.
One day, Jack handed me a beautifully leather bound book titled America’s Greatest Artists. He opened the book to the page showing Edward Hopper’s Nighthawk. My thought was everyone knows Hopper. He’s big.
Jack then turned the page. The next page was Jack Baron and his black ladies.
Within two weeks, I purchased fourteen of Jack’s works. My Key West dining room was solely Jack Baron. His works all over the house.
I thought…..Am I going to make money! Someday.
Jack died 7-8 years ago. Unfortunately, the value of his paintings never went up. They went down. Dramatically.
I still love Jack and his paintings, however. I learned a lesson. One I have experienced many times in life and never seem to really learn: All that glitters is not gold.