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Hopper, Nighthawks

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942, oil on canvas, 84.1 x 152.4 cm / 33-1/8 x 60 inches (The Art Institut of Chicago) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user jamie
    It almost feels like a stage to me. So isolated and also prescribed and planned out. It is eerie as the professors mention. Does anyone have any insight on what the woman is holding? She seems to be particularly interested in it - it is holding her gaze and attention more that the personal company. It is around that you can see a close up of the woman. I almost get the feeling that the woman's mind is elsewhere, and these Nighthawks maybe aren't supposed to be hanging out together. She is just there for the company, no matter how isolating it feels.
    (15 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Scott
      I've heard that it may be a book of matches, which makes sense given the culture of the time period and likelihood of her being a smoker. I'm not sure, but her male companion may be clenching a lit cigarette between his fingers as well.
      (4 votes)
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Novella Nebiyou
    The guys in the kinda look like Al Capone. Does any one else think that. Did the artist use the image of him for his painting?
    (2 votes)
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  • leaf red style avatar for user Kat
    This painting seems reminiscent of the themes of 1940s film noir. The people at the diner are cloaked in mystery, the men in charcoal fedoras of the time, the woman looking like a classic femme fatale. The fact that there are only three guests imply that not many citizens are out and that it is not a time for going outdoors at all. My only question is why didn't Edward Hopper put in any doors to the diner?
    (2 votes)
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    • leafers tree style avatar for user Daryl Fell
      I think from the commentary, it is to enhance the sense of isolation by the viewer, namely, the only life appears to be happening in the diner and we are cut off from it. Further Dr Harris at the beginning of the video spoke of not wanting to make a noise. It would somehow shatter the eerie silence and perhaps draw unwanted attention to oneself . If you've ever been out at late at night by yourself with no-one around, no wind, no traffic, the feeling is can be quite unnerving; and one maybe driven to thoughts of being watched in the darkness. The birds, Nighthawks obviously hunt at night or dusk/dawn. The title tells me that one needs to be cautious at such times. One doesn't know who or what is out hunting. It is just a thought that occurred to me, but I was thinking the title referred to the people in the diner, but what if they were the prey, not the hunters. The diner may be a sanctuary like someone suggested; one with no entrance but plenty of visibility to tempt the hunter.
      (2 votes)
  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Harriet Buchanan
    Why has no one mentioned the door on the wall, just to the right of the coffee urns? It has no handle, so it can't be a customer entrance. It's hard to determine exactly how long the counter is, but it appears that the counter butts up against the door. If the counter isn't that long, the door is still poorly placed for a waitress to access a kitchen. Could the entrance be through a kitchen? Is the diner a sort of triangular shape? If so, it isn't really clear.
    (2 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Novella Nebiyou
    On the third window on the left, I see a little smudge of paint. Is that a person?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Pattie Bisram
    what is a good thesis for this type of painting
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user kylestoneking
    dark figure upper left window.
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine seed style avatar for user Ashley Phan
      "Very good looking blond boy in white (coat, cap) inside counter. Girl in red blouse, brown hair eating sandwich. Man night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette. Other figure dark sinister back—at left."
      - Josephine Hopper, Edward Hopper's wife
      Can be found on Wikipedia page on Nighthawks
      (2 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Robert Hustwick
    I'm sitting in a coffee shop, watching this on my computer. It's dark outside, and I imagine a 21st century version of this scene playing out.
    (1 vote)
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  • male robot johnny style avatar for user ZM
    Could someone tell me the title of the painting seen at ?
    Please, makers of these videos, make sure you label the paintings you show in the videos with their name somehow discreetly.
    We are here to learn about the paintings and it's useful and important to know their titles.
    (1 vote)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user kennyachaffin
    I would ask if anyone has read Stuart Dybek's short story titled Nighthawks? If not, please seek it out it is as fascinating at the painting.
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

(piano playing) Beth: Looking into the space of this diner through these glass windows makes me feel really aware of the sound of my own footsteps on the sidewalk. Steven: We're in the Art Institute of Chicago, and we're looking at Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks," from 1942, this classic American painting that's usually seen as an expression of wartime alienation of the notion of separation. It really is about separation. Look at the warm light in that diner, and compare it to the exterior. You get a sense of the quiet conversation that might be taking place inside, but we have no access to that. In fact, there's not even a doorway to let us into this restaurant. Beth: There's an immediate implication that we are alone. It almost starts to feel frightening. Steven: There's a way that the painting functions as a kind of prison that amplifies or intensifies not only the sense of silence, but also the way in which light fills this space. Look at the way in which the warm light of that interior filters out onto the sidewalk, creating a series of shadows and areas of light that seem to lay over each other and create this complex set of rays on the sidewalk, and the way in which the light hits the glass as it turns around the corner of this building, leading us to that sharp diagonal across the street where that lonely cash register stands as the only recognizable object. Beth: But, you can imagine life around it at another time of the day, but now it's all eerily silent. It makes us look up at those windows for some sign of life, but we don't see anything. Steven: We can see blinds that have been pulled down by somebody at some point, that seem, now, completely abandoned. We can imagine, perhaps, the inhabitant is asleep, but there's no presence, no [unintelligible] life. Beth: Then, we just want to know, what are these figures doing together? Did that couple come in together? Did they meet here? Why is the male figure sitting alone? Why has he wandered into this diner so late at night? What are they talking about? It's all very open. There's not a clear narrative here at all. Steven: The only clarity is the sense of isolation, the sense of alienation. I find this especially interesting. If you think about the year in which this was painted, 1942, the height of the 2nd World War, in some ways, the cities were emptied out. There were a lot of people that had gone overseas. Beth: It was a time of great fear and anxiety in America. Steven: That's right. This was really the height of the violence of the war. Nobody knew which way the war was going to turn at this point. Beth: These are subjects that preoccupied Hopper for his entire career, images of lonliness and isolation in the new urban spaces. Steven: This is also a rendering that is particularly American. It's generalized. We don't know precisely where we are. Hopper lived in Greenwich Village, and certainly the brick buildings behind us are reminiscent of the architecture that we might find in the village, but this is not a specific street corner. This is not a specific cafe. It is a kind of stripping away of everything that's nonessential, so that we're left with a kind of idealized rendering of these forms of this American experience. Beth: There's a sense of that in the geometry of the composition, the horizontal line of the counter that the two figures in the background lean against, those very geometric forms of the coffee urns, the rectangular shape of that doorway. Steven: Well, there's this conflict between these figures going about their ordinary lives and the strict geometry of the space that he's imposed in this imposed in this image. I have to say that I love the fact that those coffee urns are so specific. You can even see the glass straws, and see how much coffee is left in them. There is that sign just above this cafe that's advertising cigars for 5 cents. There's this specific turn of the cash register across the street, that is there are signifiers of a kind of everyday American experience, even as this painting has been emptied out. He's left these few clues that really place us in a particular place, in a particular time, in our experience. Beth: How about the napkin holders, and the sa- Steven: (laughs) Beth: and the salt and pepper shakers, and the mugs of coffee, and the glass of water? There's a kind of love and attention to those very dinery objects here. That's really compelling. Steven: Absolutely. You have those cherry-topped stools that spin. You see the cherry of the counter. Beth: There's a kind of specificity, but at the same time, a generalizing that's happening. Steven: That's right. He's given us enough specific so that we know we've been there, and yet, this could be anywhere. (piano playing)