Tuesday, June 17, 2008
My Favorite Painting
Edward Hopper began working on Nighthawks soon after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America entered World War II. Nighthawks is an oil painting on canvas and it belongs to the Chicago Institute of Art. The painting has toured in several major exhibitions of Hopper’s work.
According to Hopper’s notes, that he kept in a ledger book with a sketch of his finished paintings, “‘Nighthawks 33 x 60. Finished Jan 21, 1942. Blocks and Winson & Newton colors, W& N Zinc white, poppy oil, English linen, domestic priming.”
According to Judith A. Barter of the Art Institute of Chicago, in an essay called “Nighthawks: Transcending Reality”, found in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston’s wonderful book Edward Hopper, “X-rays of the painting show no changes underneath the thin layer of paint. Hopper provided texture and highlights by scraping the paint back with the handle of his brush, creating small details like the rim of the man’s fedora and his shirt cuff. Thin glazes, particularly in the yellow areas, suggest smooth plastered and enameled diner walls.” Barter also reveals the following regarding Hopper's working methods; “Extant drawings show that he worked out the composition in a series of small sketches, so that his plan would be clear when he began to paint.” Barter goes on to describe how the four people in the diner got smaller and smaller and the plate glass window got bigger and bigger.
Urban isolation is a common theme in Hopper’s work and many of his pictures show people isolated from one another in the frame or sitting alone in contemplation. Hopper’s wife, Josephine, who he met while attending art school, was often the model for the women in his paintings.
The thing I like about Nighthawks and many of Hopper’s paintings is the cinematic quality they possess. According to my sources, Hopper was an avid filmgoer and his paintings show the influence of silent and early sound films.
When I look at Nighthawks, I am looking into a human aquarium. I can see the people, but they can’t see me. I equate the voyeuristic quality of Hopper's paintings to a similar quality that I find in the films of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, and Robert Altman.
I have always been a great admirer of Hopper's oil paintings and watercolors. Thanks to Gail Levin’s book, Edward Hopper As Illustrator, I was able to check out his early work as a printmaker and commercial artist.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's website includes an excellent slide show and excerpts from Hopper's sketchbook which was an alphabetical ledger.
The Art Institute of Chicago's Edward Hopper page is where I grabbed the image for this blog.
Wikipedia has a page dedicated to both Hopper and to Nighthawks. The best part of the Wikipedia Nighthawks page is section on those Hopper influenced and inspired with his painting. Homages to Nighthawks are found in all popular art forms including other paintings, sculptures, films, literature, music, etc.