Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks: the journey of the Woman in Red

Nighthawks (1942) is by far Hopper’s most recognised and famous work.  It was also one of his final paintings, as his artistic output slowed after the mid-40s.


After Nighthawks, he painted First Row Orchestra (1951) as well as Morning Sun and Hotel by a Railroad, both in 1952; and Intermission in 1963.



1952. Oil on canvas. 79,4 x 101,9 cm. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington. 66.2507.


When you consider that Hopper and his wife, Josephine, bequeathed their joint collection of more than three thousand works to the Whitney Museum of American Art, this is small collection of works, which along with Nighthawks could be considered as Hopper’s concluding  artistic statements.

Much of Hopper’s work is concerned with some aspect journeys. Edward Hopper: travellers going nowhereEdward Hopper’s Travellers, Hopper’s travellers (ii)Edward Hopper: Couples at CrossroadsEdward Hopper: Trains and boats and cars

Nighthawks constitutes the end of number of journeys that have begun, paused and continued from other Hopper paintings. In South Carolina Morning, High Noon and Summertime, Hopper paints a woman standing in a doorway.

The Woman in Red (who is Hoppers wife and muse, Jo) stands, waiting and impatient, at the door of a house in South Carolina Morning. She appears to be stepping out onto a stage which is a visual metaphor in many of Hopper’s paintings: “All the world’s a stage”: Edward Hopper’s Theatre of painting


She has journeyed through many of Hopper’s works and been a central metaphor in many of his major paintings. In Western Motel, the sparse furniture of the hotel room is shot through with a sense of transience and impermanence.


In Girlie Show, she dances into the spotlight on the stage, aggressively indifferent to the stares of the men in the audience. It is the sharp-faced drummer also indifferent, her companion in Nighthawks?


A woman in the sun is also similarly bathed in light but the artistic, philosophical and emotional connotations are quite different: Edward Hopper: the Sunlight pictures (i)Sunlight and structure: Hopper’s Sun WatchersHopper’s Sunlight Paintings: Ideal Forms and Shadows


In Hotel Window, the woman sits dressed for, but indifferent to, the next stage of her journey.


Hotel Lobby has her sitting with an older companion apparently about to set out on a journey down the green strip of carpet. On the other side of the lobby sits another woman, possibly her younger self, indifferent to journey the two older figures are about to undertake.


It’s been a long journey for the woman in red.


Now, she sits in a diner in New York with her companion, their fingers almost but not quite touching. The two figures are strangely symmetrical both in composition and emotional tone.  Together, yet separate, one is tempted to add a biographical note about Hopper and his wife Jo. Is Hopper the woman’s companion staring into the middle distance and she abstractly considering her fingernails?  Or is Hopper  of the figure on the other side of the counter. Certainly is a more marked similarity.

Hopper acknowledged that “unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”


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