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Edward Hopper (1882-1967)

Final Study for Nighthawks

Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Final Study for Nighthawks
signed 'Edward Hopper' lower right
charcoal and white chalk on paper
11 x 15in. (27.9 x 38.2cm.)
J. Canaday, "The Solo Voyage of Edward Hopper, American Realist," Smithsonian, September 1980, p. 127, illus.
G. Levin, "Edward Hopper's 'Nighthawks,'" Arts, May 1981, p. 159, illus.
"Artist's Panel", Art Journal, Summer 1981, p. 153, illus.
M. Holthof, "Die Hopper-Methode: Vom narrative zum abstrakten realism," in Edward Hopper: 1882-1967, Frankfurt, Germany, 1992, p. 24, illus.
Reiner Moritz Associates, 100 Great Paintings, Masterworks: Art Institute of Chicago, London, England, (television program broadcast in Europe)
I. Kranzfelder, Edward Hopper 1882-1967: Vision der Wirklichkeit, 1994, Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, Germany, p. 141, illus.
G. Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 1995, p. 349
New Britain, Connecticut, The New Britain Museum of American Art, Sound and Silence, November-December 1973, illus., on cover
New York, Whitney Museum of Art, Edward Hopper: The Art and The Artist, September 1980-January 1981, no. 387, p. 270, illus., and travelling
London, England, Hayward Gallery, Edward Hopper, 1882-1967, February-March 1981, no. 192, p. 56, illus. on cover.
Evanston, Illinois, Terra Museum of American Art, Twentieth Century American Drawings--The Figure in Context, April-June 1984, no. 44, and travelling
Yonkers, New York, The Hudson River Museum, Form or Formula: Discourse on Drawing and Drawings, April-May 1986
Hartford, Connecticut, Aetna Institute Gallery, 20th Century American Realism, March-May 1988, illus.
Hartford, Connecticut, Wadsworth Atheneum, Masterworks from Private Connecticut Collections, October 1993-January 1994

Lot Essay

Edward Hopper's Nighthawks of 1942 is among the most important American paintings executed in the twentieth century. Of singular significance, Nighthawks has come to define both Hopper's oeuvre and American painting at mid-century, and it remains today as a landmark of modern American civilization. Gail Levin has written, "In Nighthawks Hopper created what would become his most famous image, arguably his masterpiece, pulling together with heightened intensity themes and forms that critics and the public had long responded to in his work." (Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 1995, p. 350)

Hopper conceived Nighthawks during one of the most pivotal moments of the twentieth century--the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and America's subsequent entry into World War II. Hopper's wife Jo wrote in a letter, "Ed refused to take any interest in our very likely prospect of being bombed--and we live right under glass sky-lights and a roof that leaks whenever it rains...For the black-out we have no shade over the skylight..but Ed can't be bothered. He's doing a new canvas and simply can't be interrupted!...It takes over a month for E to finish a canvas and this one is only just begun..." (Jo Hopper to Marion Hopper, December 17, 1941)

Hopper's initial conception for Nighthawks began with a series of sketches. In these he worked through various architectural arrangements, figural groupings and details such as the coffee urns that would be included in the final composition. Hopper executed approximately seventeen sketches--many of which were given by Jo Hopper to the Whitney Museum of American Art--prior to executing Final Study for Nighthawks. Gail Levin writes of this study, "Tentatively he put it together in an elaborate sketch, which he further modified in the move to the canvas, altering details for expressive edge. The sketch has the couple seated at the counter, turning toward one another with intimacy; the lone man a somewhat overpowering, isolated bulk at center, his gaze falling toward the window; and the counterboy bent over staring down. Reflecting and focusing as he painted, Hopper made the couple look straight ahead, as if lost in separate reveries, raked by the harsh light that also picks out the man, yet reduces his bulk and emphasizes his isolation and posture of indifference, while the counterman cocks his head upward, in a gaze not connecting with the others." (Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, p. 349)

Both Hopper and his wife posed for Nighthawks, and Jo suggested the title. In another letter Jo wrote, "Ed has just finished a very fine picture--a lunch counter at night with 3 figures. Night Hawks would be a fine name for it. E. posed for the 2 men in a mirror and I for the girl. He was about a month and half working on it--" (Jo Hopper to Marion Hopper January 22, 1942). Gail Levin writes, "Jo's suggestion for a name stuck. The picture became a favorite with Edward, who confessed to liking it "very much..[it] was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets met. Nighthawks seems to be the way I think of a night street." Another interviewer gathered that the picture was "based partly on an all-night coffee stand Hopper saw on Greenwich Avenue in downtown New York...To a query about loneliness in the picture, Hopper responded, 'I didn't see it as particularly lonely. I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger. Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.'" (Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, p. 349)

Like many artists, Hopper was a natural draughtsman and began drawing at a young age. When he was ten he was given books and magazines of drawing instruction, and over the years continued to draw avidly. Gail Levin notes, "Already these sketches in charcoal and white chalk focus on the importance of light, a concern that remained important to him all his life." (Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, p. 16-17) This fascination with the effects of light can be seen in Final Study of Nighthawks, where the artist has manipulated the contrasts between the black and white media to suggest the bright, artificial illumination of the coffee shop.

Final Study for Nighthawks demonstrates the power and expressiveness of Hopper's mature drafting style. The artist received training in drawing at the New York School of Art, founded by William Merritt Chase; subsequent instructors included J. Carroll Beckwith, Kenneth Hayes Miller and Robert Henri. Much of this training revolved around drawing the human figure in charcoal, a practice Hopper would continue throughout his career in the form of preparatory sketches and studies for his paintings. In addition to this early academic art training, Hopper's experience as a commercial illustrator informed his drafting style. His drawings demonstrate a complete understanding of effective use of bold contrasts and delicate modulations of half-tones.
In 1953 Hopper wrote that his art is "the most exact transcription possible of my utmost intimate expression of nature" and "a synthesis of my inner experiences." Final Study for Nighthawks provides a rare view into this artist's "inner experience," which would result in one of the most profound paintings of the twentieth century.

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