Artist Edward Hopper
Year 1942
Type Oil on canvas
Dimensions 84.1 cm × 152.4 cm (33.1 in × 60 in)
Location Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

Nighthawks is a 1942 painting by Edward Hopper that portrays people sitting in a downtown diner late at night. It is considered Hopper's most famous painting, as well as one of the most recognizable in American art. Within months of its completion, it was sold to the Art Institute of Chicago for $3,000,[1] and has remained there ever since.


About the painting

Notes on the painting from Hopper’s journal

Starting shortly after their marriage in 1924, Edward Hopper and his wife, Josephine (Jo), kept a journal in which he would, using a pencil, make a sketch-drawing of each of his paintings, along with a precise description of certain technical details. Jo Hopper would then add additional information in which the themes of the painting are, to some degree, illuminated.

A review of the page on which ‘’Nighthawks’’ is entered shows (in Edward Hopper’s handwriting) that the intended name of the work was actually ‘’Night Hawks’’, and that the painting was completed on January 21, 1942.

Jo’s handwritten notes about the painting give considerably more detail, including the interesting possibility that the painting's evocative title may have had its origins as a reference to the beak-shaped nose of the man at the bar:

Night + brilliant interior of cheap restaurant. Bright items: cherry wood counter + tops of surrounding stools; light on metal tanks at rear right; brilliant streak of jade green tiles ¾ across canvas—at base of glass of window curving at corner. Light walls, dull yellow ocre [sic] door into kitchen right.

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. Light side walk outside pale greenish. Darkish red brick houses opposite. Sign across top of restaurant, dark—Phillies 5c cigar. Picture of cigar. Outside of shop dark, green. Note: bit of bright ceiling inside shop against dark of outside street—at edge of stretch of top of window.[2]

Description and possible themes

The term "night-hawk", like "night owl," is used figuratively to describe someone who stays up late, and is a name shared with a real family of birds called (naturally) nighthawks, although as Jo Hopper's journal entry indicates, the title might have been inspired by the beaklike nose of one of the men at the counter.

The scene was supposedly inspired by a diner (since demolished) in Greenwich Village, Hopper's home neighborhood in Manhattan. Hopper himself said the painting "was suggested by a restaurant on Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet." Additionally, he noted that "I simplified the scene a great deal and made the restaurant bigger."[3]

This reference has led Hopper aficionados to engage in a search for the location of the original diner. The spot most usually associated with the former location is a now-vacant lot known as Mulry Square, at the intersection of Seventh Avenue South, Greenwich Avenue, and West 11th Street, about seven blocks west of Hopper's studio on Washington Square. However, according to The New York Times, this cannot be the location of the diner that inspired the painting, as a gas station occupied that lot from the 1930s to the 1970s.[4]

Influence on popular culture

Because it is so widely recognized, the diner scene in Nighthawks has served as the model for countless homages and parodies.

Painting and sculpture

Roger Brown's Puerto Rican Wedding (1969). Brown said that the café in the lower left corner of this painting "isn't set up like an imitation of Nighthawks, but still refers to it very much."[5]

Many artists have produced works that allude or respond to Nighthawks. An early example is George Segal's sculpture The Diner (1964–1966), made from parts of a real diner with Segal's white plaster figures added, which resembles Nighthawks in its sense of loneliness and alienation, as well as in its subject matter. Roger Brown, one of the Chicago Imagists, included a view into a corner cafe in his painting Puerto Rican Wedding (1969), a stylized nighttime street scene.

Hopper influenced the Photorealists of the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Ralph Goings, who evoked Nighthawks in several paintings of diners. Richard Estes painted a corner store in People's Flowers (1971), but in daylight, with the shop's large window reflecting the street and sky.[6]

More direct visual quotations began to appear in the 1970s. Gottfried Helnwein's painting Boulevard of Broken Dreams (1984) replaces the three patrons with American pop culture icons Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean, and the attendant with Elvis Presley.[7] According to Hopper scholar Gail Levin, Helnwein connected the bleak mood of Nighthawks with 1950s American cinema and with "the tragic fate of the decade's best-loved celebrities."[8] Greenwich Avenue (1986), one of several parodies painted by Mark Kostabi, increases the painting's scale and uses a palette of garish electric colors; the human figures are red and faceless. Nighthawks Revisited, a 1980 parody by Red Grooms, clutters the street scene with pedestrians, cats, and trash.[9] A 2005 Banksy parody shows a fat, shirtless soccer hooligan in Union Flag boxers standing inebriated outside the diner, apparently having just smashed the diner window with a nearby chair.[10]


Several writers have explored how the customers in Nighthawks came to be in a diner at night, or what will happen next. Wolf Wondratschek's poem "Nighthawks: After Edward Hopper's Painting" imagines the man and woman sitting together in the diner as an estranged couple: "I bet she wrote him a letter/ Whatever it said, he's no longer the man / Who'd read her letters twice."[11] Joyce Carol Oates wrote interior monologues for the figures in the painting in her poem "Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, 1942".[12] A special issue of Der Spiegel included five brief dramatizations that build five different plots around the painting; one, by screenwriter Christof Schlingensief, turned the scene into a chainsaw massacre. Erik Jendresen also wrote a short story inspired by this painting.[13]


Hopper was an avid moviegoer, and critics have noted the resemblance of his paintings to film stills. Several of his paintings suggest gangster films of the early 1930s such as Scarface and Little Caesar, a connection that can be seen in the clothes of the customers in the diner. Nighthawks and works such as Night Shadows (1921) anticipate the look of film noir, whose development Hopper may have influenced.[14][15]

Hopper was an acknowledged influence on the film musical Pennies from Heaven (1981), in which director Ken Adams recreated Nighthawks as a set.[16] Director Wim Wenders recreated Nighthawks as the set for a film-within-a-film in The End of Violence (1997).[14] Wenders suggested that Hopper's paintings appeal to filmmakers because "You can always tell where the camera is."[17] In Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), two characters visit a café resembling the diner in a scene that illustrates their solitude and despair.[18] Hard Candy (2005) acknowledged the debt by setting one scene at a "Nighthawks Diner", where a character purchases a T-shirt with Nighthawks printed on it.[19] The painting was also briefly used as a background for a scene in the animated film Heavy Traffic (1973) by director Ralph Bakshi.

Nighthawks also influenced the "future noir" look of Blade Runner; director Ridley Scott said "I was constantly waving a reproduction of this painting under the noses of the production team to illustrate the look and mood I was after".[20] In his review of Alex Proyas' Dark City, Roger Ebert noted that the film had "store windows that owe something to Edward Hopper's Nighthawks."[21]


Tom Waits's album Nighthawks at the Diner (1975) features Nighthawks-inspired lyrics.[22]

The video for Voice of the Beehive's song "Monsters and Angels", from Honey Lingers, is set in a diner reminiscent of the one in Nighthawks, with the band-members portraying waitstaff and patrons. The band's web site said they "went with Edward Hopper's classic painting, Nighthawks, as a visual guide. The end result was an artful, sleek video, which made Tracey especially happy because she got to wear her beloved babydoll dress in it."[23]


An establishing shot from "Homer vs. The Eighteenth Amendment", one of several references to Nighthawks in the animated TV series The Simpsons.

The television series The Tick, Dead Like Me,[24] The Simpsons, Rocko's Modern Life,[25] The Fairly OddParents,[26] Mad Men, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation[27] have all placed their own characters in versions of Nighthawks.

In the That '70s Show episode "Drive In," a scene ends with Red and Kitty Foreman sitting in a diner named "Phillies" when Kitty states that the moment seems familiar. The camera zooms out showing Nighthawks with Red and Kitty wearing the suit and red dress, respectively, of the man and woman sitting together.[28]


Nighthawks has been widely referenced and parodied in popular culture. Versions of it have appeared on posters, T-shirts, and greeting cards, as well as in comic books and advertisements.[29] Typically, these parodies—like Helnwein's Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which became a popular poster[8]—retain the diner and the highly recognizable diagonal composition, but replace the patrons and attendant with other characters: animals, Santa Claus and his reindeer, or the cast of The Adventures of Tintin or Peanuts.[30]

One parody of Nighthawks even inspired a parody of its own. Michael Bedard's painting Window Shopping (1989), part of his Sitting Ducks series of posters, replaces the figures in the diner with ducks and shows a crocodile outside eying the ducks in anticipation. Poverino Peppino parodied this image in Boulevard of Broken Ducks (1993), in which a contented crocodile lies on the counter while four ducks stand outside in the rain.[31] The ice cream parlor in the Veggie Tales video The End of Silliness? is modeled after Nighthawks.

Print media, other

Comic book characters who have appeared in Nighthawks-inspired diners include the Human Torch in an Alex Ross panel in the graphic novel Marvels, Batman's Commissioner Gordon (in Batman: Year One, Gordon appears in a diner, the name of which is HOPPER), Spider Jerusalem, X-Factor and The Tick.[32]



  1. ^ The sale was recorded by Josephine Hopper as follows, in volume II, p. 95 of her and Edward's journal of his art: "May 13, '42: Chicago Art Institute - 3,000 + return of Compartment C in exchange as part payment. 1,000 - 1/3 = 2,000." See Deborah Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1997, p. 63.
  2. ^ See Deborah Lyons, Edward Hopper: A Journal of His Work. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1997, p. 63
  3. ^ Hopper, interview with Katharine Kuh, in The Artist's Voice: Talks with Seventeen Modern Artists. 1962. Reprinted, New York: Da Capo Press, 2000, p. 134.
  4. ^ Moss, Jeremiah. "Nighthawks State of Mind," The New York Times, Monday, July 5, 2010.
  5. ^ Levin, 111–112.
  6. ^ Levin, Gail (1995), "Edward Hopper: His Legacy for Artists", in Lyons, Deborah; Weinberg, Adam D., Edward Hopper and the American Imagination, New York: W. W. Norton, pp. 109–115, ISBN 0-393-31329-8 
  7. ^ Boulevard of Broken Dreams II
  8. ^ a b Levin, 109–110.
  9. ^ Levin, 116–123.
  10. ^ Jury, Louise (October 14, 2005), "Rats to the Arts Establishment", The Independent, 
  11. ^ Gemünden, 2–5, 15; quotation translated from the German by Gemünden.
  12. ^ Updike, John (2005), Still Looking: Essays on American Art, New York: Knopf, pp. 181, ISBN 1-4000-4418-9 . The Oates poem appears in the anthology Hirsch, Edward, ed. (1994), Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, Chicago, Illinois: Art Institute of Chicago, ISBN 0-8212-2126-4 .
  13. ^ Gemünden, 5–6.
  14. ^ a b Gemünden, Gerd (1998), Framed Vsions: Popular Culture, Americanization, and the Contemporary German and Austrian Imagination, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, pp. 9–12, ISBN 0-472-10947-2 
  15. ^ Doss, Erika (1983), "Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, and Film Noir" (PDF), Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities 2 (2): 14–36, 
  16. ^ Doss, 36.
  17. ^ Berman, Avis (2007), "Hopper", Smithsonian 38 (4): 4, 
  18. ^ Arouet, Carole (2001), "Glengarry Glen Ross ou l’autopsie de l’image modèle de l’économie américaine" (PDF), La Voix du Regard (14), 
  19. ^ Chambers, Bill, "Hard Candy (2006), The King (2006)", Film Freak Central,, retrieved 2007-08-05 
  20. ^ Sammon, Paul M. (1996), Future Noir: the Making of Blade Runner, New York: HarperPrism, p. 74, ISBN 0-06-105314-7 
  21. ^ "Dark City". 
  22. ^ Thiesen, 10; Reynolds, E25.
  23. ^ "The Beehive – Voice of the Beehive Online – Biography". Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  24. ^ Dead Like Me episode 12, "Nighthawks".
  25. ^ Rocko's Modern Life episode 12a, "Who's For Dinner".
  26. ^ The Fairly OddParents season 5 episode 5a, "The Masked Magician".
  27. ^ Theisen, Gordon (2006), Staying Up Much Too Late: Edward Hopper's Nighthawks and the Dark Side of the American Psyche, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, pp. 10, ISBN 0-312-33342-0 
  28. ^ Reynolds, E25. The episode is #108, "Drive In".
  29. ^ Levin, 125–126. Reynolds, Christopher (September 23, 2006), "Lives of a Diner", Los Angeles Times: E25 .
  30. ^ Levin, 125–126; Thiesen, 10.
  31. ^ Müller, Beate (1997), "Introduction", Parody: Dimensions and Perspectives, Rodopi, ISBN 904200181X 
  32. ^ Marvels #1, Batman: Year One #3, Transmetropolitan #32, X-Factor vol. 3 #5, and The Tick #1

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