Nighthawks is not only one of Edward Hopper’s most recognized works of art, but also one of the most renowned American paintings as well. The restaurant depicted by Hopper in this painting is supposedly based off of a restaurant in his neighboorhood of Greenwich Village, in New York City. The restaurant has since been demolished but is reminiscent of any burger joint, coffee shop, or diner that you’ve probably ever been too.
Hopper placed the viewer at just the right angle in order to see the scene transpiring inside, but he didn’t give the viewer a way to enter the building so that we could fully observe what is happening inside. Instead, we see four figures. First, we see a couple, a man and a woman. Are they in a relationship? Are they siblings? Next, we see another man who isn’t facing us. Who is he, and why is his back to us? And finally, we see a waiter. Why does he seem so distressed? None of the people pictured are communicating in any way, and something seems amiss. Hopper isn’t telling a narrative in this work, he’s commenting on modern society and the feelings of isolation that we may feel – especially in relation to city dwelling.
The flatness of Hopper’s work allows the viewer to easily project their current mental state onto the canvas. The image can also be viewed within the schism of days gone by. Viewers are invited into a simpler time in America’s past, which brings up feelings of nostalgia.