Art Analysis of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks

27 02 2012

Edward Hopper's Nighthawks

The painting above is one of my favorite paintings of all time. Even if you haven’t seen the original, you’ve likely seen it referenced in many different media. The world is full of versions of this painting in Lego, featuring old film stars, with additional quotes added for entertainment. All of these homages are done because of the way this painting has resonated with the people who have seen it.

So now it’s time for you to look at it, really look at it, and see what you see.

I have an example of an art analysis prepared for you on another painting. If you want a head-start on this analysis you may see me before tomorrow’s class to get a copy of it, otherwise I’ll pass them along tomorrow. And from today you have a week to analyze this piece in your IWB and here on the blog. One of the responses may be a summary of the other. Once you guys have completed your analysis, I’ll provide you with my own and allow you the opportunity to reflect and revise your first analysis, which I will evaluate formally.

Just a little taste of those homages I mentioned.

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4 responses

28 02 2012
Emily

Here is my analysis of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks in terms of the elements and principles of art.
First of all, this painting shows a scene in a restaurant or bar late at night. There are a few people sitting at the counter, and they’re dressed up like they just had a night on the town, and now they look tired. The street is empty, which makes it seem like it’s late and everyone else is in bed. It’s a simple image, a snapshot of a moment in time.
I think that one of the most important elements of art in this image is value. Because it is night, but the restaurant/bar is bright, there are lots of shadows, creating many different values. The contrast between the bright restaurant and dark street make the restaurant seem inviting, and like it’s awake while the rest of the city is asleep.
Colour is another important element in this piece. A lot of the painting is either black or white, or close to it, but one thing that stood out for me was the use of redish brown (the counter and buildings) next to green (around the windows and doors). Red and green are complimentary colours, so using them side by side makes the painting stand out.
Line and shape are used in this painting, but I don’t think they’re particularly important. Most of the lines are straight and the shapes rectangular, but that is mostly because it is a city scene, and buildings are straight and rectangular. It does make it seem orderly and neat though.
There is a lot of simulated empty space in Nighthawks, especially outside the restaurant/ bar. The street is empty, even though it looks like it’s a city scene. This suggests that it is late at night and that most people are already in bed.
A sense of equilibrium is created in this painting using asymmetrical balance. The large bright interior balances the smaller, dark store fronts.
The focal point of this painting is the people sitting at the counter in the restaurant/bar. There is emphasis placed on them because they’re in the bright restaurant and and behind them is the dark street. Also, the red dress of the woman stands out against the both the very dark colours outside and the very bright white and yellow of the restaurant walls.
There is a bit of movement in this painting in that the viewer’s eye is follows the road around the corner, but it isn’t very important to the image.
There isn’t a lot of gradation or harmony in this piece; there are a lot of sharp contrasts of colour.
The proportions of Nighthawks are correct. They’re realistic. There isn’t really much rhythm in this piece, other than in the windows of the buildings in the foreground, but they don’t really add much to the painting.
Variety isn’t really used in this image. It’s a simple image with not that many elements.

2 03 2012
Sarah

There are a few things about this painting that can be noticed, even without thinking artistically. It is probably set in the 1950’s, because of the old fashioned drink machines in the restaurant, and the style of clothing that the people are wearing. It is most likely late at night because outside of the restaurant is deserted, and there are vey few people in the restaurant. Also, the lighting in the restaurant is very bright compared to how dark it is outside, and the light this building seems to be the only source of light in this particular area.

Much more can be seen in the painting by looking at it with an artistic point of view. I think that emphasis, movement, and line all work together well. The emphasis is on the right side of the painting, because the wall is painted white when most of the rest of the painting is contains darker values. Also the right side is where the majority of the people are, and where the most seems to be happening. Once the viewer of the painting sees what is emphasized, the line created by the bars causes the eye to move to the left, where the other man is sitting. The line leads us to see what we might not have seen with just a first glance at the painting. The man is sitting in the shadows, so he blends in with the darkness of the window on the other side of him. At first it seems as though the man isn’t an important part of this piece because he is so obscured, yet he is placed in the very centre of the image.

This is why I think movement is a very important aspect of the painting. There is not much actual movement going on in the painting, but the way that the artist place objects, shadows, and light areas causes the viewer to move their eyes around the painting. They begin at the left side, shift their view to the man in the shadows, then the white pole to the left of the man stands out because it is against a dark background, which leads the viewer to outside of the restaurant. It is odd that the painting makes someone look at it from right to left, rather than left to right like how people of North America (which is where this painting most likely takes place: structure of buildings, style of clothing, etc.) usually see things.

Line does not only make a strong impact with the bar, but it shows throughout the rest of the piece as well. Most of the lines are straight and sharp, which give off a clean, yet a sort of creepy feeling. These lines, with the help of shadows and very dark values, create many unknown places that are introduced in the painting, but aren’t actually shown. For example, what would I see if I looked in the dark windows? What’s around the corner? What is in that building across the street? This adds to the sense of anonymity in the picture.

The painting is fairly well balanced, and this is achieved through the use of color. The bottom left and the top right are both very light: from the light in the building, and the light of the building hitting the ground outside. The top left and bottom right are also balanced because the building in the background and the bar in the restaurant are both a brown-orange color. The darkness is balanced from the dark building on the left, and the darkness at the top and bottom of the building on the right. Everything being balanced creates a sense of unity throughout the painting, and that everything fits together.

If I had to sum up the overall atmosphere of this painting in one word, it would be mysterious. The anonymous man in the middle, the darkness of everything, just barely being able to see the shape of what is in dark spaces, all add to this curious theme. It seems as though there is a lot more to be discovered than what the artist decided to incorporate into the painting itself.

5 03 2012
Natalie

An analysis of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawk using some of the elements and principles of art.
The content of the painting is a small diner named “Phillies” on the corner of a street. In the back ground there is a building that could be a office or a store but it’s all closed up for the night. Inside the diner there is 3 customers and the worker. Two of the customers (a girl and a guy) are dressed up the other appears to be a cowboy. The three of them appear to be tired while the woken, an old man appears to be a bit more lively.
The painting is balanced in terms of value as there is equal amount of light and dark colors which gives it a more friendly feeling. It is also balanced as for all the large objects they’re is space or smaller objects.
The colors in this piece are primarilly warm with barely any contrast occurring, but this adds again to the friendly almost inviting feeling resonating in the painting.
The lines in the painting are straight but there is quite a few rounded corners. So even though it’s a city scene , which requires straight lines, it still maintains a slightly softer feel.
There is some movement in the piece, following the road from the bottom of the painting up and almost around the corner noticing the closed building then noticing the diner is open and then looking into the diner first noticing the two customers dressed up and then following the counter back around the corner.

2 01 2013
Clement

Monsieur,
Je suis élève en classe de 3 eme en France. J’aimerais bien me procurer votre analyse que vous citez dans votre introduction.
Merci.

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