From its completion in 1942, Nighthawks was regarded as a significant achievement and was acquired that same year by The Art Institute of Chicago. Now Hopper’s most famous painting, Nighthawks is an icon of American culture, reworked and parodied countless times in popular culture.
The work was inspired by a diner on a wedge-shaped corner of Greenwich Avenue in Hopper’s neighborhood. There are hints of other places and paintings as well. The brick buildings across the street echo those in Early Sunday Morning; the juxtaposition of a brightly lit commercial interior with a dark street—its pavement marked by spiky shadows—is reminiscent of Hopper’s 1927 painting Drug Store.
This night view of a deserted street corner and a harshly illuminated diner plays with interior and exterior worlds. The panoramic windows permit a nearly seamless flow between the street and café scenes, and again out to the street. Less transparent are the appearances and psyches of the isolated diners, whose rigid expressions and postures can only hint at unfolding dramas.