July 30, 2013

How Edward Hopper Storyboarded ‘Nighthawks’:

Sometime in 1941 or ’42, Edward Hopper, who liked to prowl New York City with a handheld sketchbook, lingered in a diner, making studies of a man wearing a suit and a fedora.

With quick strokes, Hopper captured the man as he moved: the variations in the tilt of the head, the press of the body against the counter, the play of light on the jacket.

The man, seen in just slightly more profile, is an early and close relation to the painted version in Nighthawks, Hopper’s melancholy, suggestive, much-parodied 1942 masterpiece that is surely the most famous diner scene in art history.

These drawings are among 19 studies for Nighthawks, brought together for the first time, in a revelatory show now at the Whitney.

Hopper generally didn’t consider his drawings as art objects that should be exhibited or sold. To him, they were simply studio materials—documents of the process he used to conceive and to plot, in minute detail, the stories he told on his canvases.

The sketches in “Hopper Drawing” show how Hopper choreographed his voyeuristic scene of the nighttime convergence of the man, a couple, and a server in the eerie Deco diner, refining every nuance of the countertop, the figures, the architecture, and the effects of the fluorescent lighting. 

In one drawing, we see the emergence of the glowing wedge—highlighting the diner’s modernist lines against the 19th-century brick streetscape—that Roberta Smith describes in her recent review of “Hopper Drawing” as “really the picture’s main character.”

In the final painting, the arms and hands of the couple emerge. But the figures are not as close as they were in the final study. “If Hopper’s paintings are an art of silence,” curator Carter E. Foster writes, “much is told through nuance of gesture and body.”

Read more in my story at ARTnews.com

TOP SIX: EDWARD HOPPER, STUDIES FOR ‘NIGHTHAWKS,’ 1941 OR ‘42. COURTESY WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK; JOSEPHINE N. HOPPER BEQUEST. ©HEIRS OF JOSEPHINE N. HOPPER, LICENSED BY THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART. DIGITAL IMAGE ©WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NY. BOTTOM LEFT: COURTESY WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART, NEW YORK,   AND GIFT OF JOSEPHINE N. HOPPER BY EXCHANGE 2011.65. BOTTOM RIGHT: EDWARD HOPPER, NIGHTHAWKS, 1942, OIL ON CANVAS. COURTESY THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO, FRIENDS OF AMERICAN ART COLLECTION 1942.51. © HEIRS OF JOSEPHINE N. HOPPER, LICENSED BY THE WHITNEY MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART. PHOTOGRAPHY ©THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO. 

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