After a long day of gallery hopping and museum going, fine arts enthusiasts often crave a strong cup of coffee and inexpensive meal. Edward Hopper's iconic diner would certainly "fit the bill".
In honor of our national holiday weekend, the ARTKABINETT collectors social network offers a glimpse into "the diner" -- a unique slice of americana.
The prow-shaped corner juts into a street free of streetlamps, illuminated only by the light emanating from the smoothly curved glass window of a diner boasting 5¢ Philly cheese steaks.
The oak bar, manned by an attentive barman, provides a support for the three diners hunching over their coffees, perched on firmly rooted stools. The mute narrative of the interior is echoed outside, where the surrounding empty shop windows resemble desolate black eye sockets facing the street, gazing sightlessly at the diner below. Any sounds coming from the scene of lonely communion therein are stifled by the resolute panes of glass protecting the patrons from our peripheral intrusion.
Edward Hopper’s (self portrait shown here) 1942 painting Nighthawks is one of the most iconic American images of the 20th century. While the enigmatic scene of the quietly captivating diners resonates with viewers, it is the feeling of trespassing on a mystery that has motivated many amateur art detectives to start investigations — with some of them actually bearing fruitful conclusions.
For example, one sleuth persuasively identified the distinctive redhead under the fluorescents as Hopper’s wife, Jo. But one question endures:
Where is the diner?
Almost 70 years later, resourceful blogger Jeremiah Moss of Jeremiah's Vanishing New York conducted a through investigation on behalf of the Hopper fans who want to experience firsthand the cold pressure of the tarnished barstools and rest their hands on the mahogany bar, sticky with old varnish and spilt milkshakes, to order a coffee from a lone attendant.
The diner that inspired the painting is rumored by Hopper biographers and New York City veterans to be in Greenwich Village, the late painter's old neighborhood — specifically on the Northern tip of Mulry Square, now an empty lot sandwiched between 7th avenue and West 11th street. However, after extensive research, which included hours and hours of gently handling 68-year-old microfilms at the Municipal Archives, Moss reached a sad conclusion: if such a diner ever existed, it was not in Greenwich Village.
Some think Nighthawks may merely be a figment of artistic imagination.
Hopper is notorious for patch-working elements from memory, other paintings, and sketches into a single composite image.
He may never have stood on an empty street corner in Greenwich Village contemplating the thought of a late night cup of coffee.
But the disappointment is unfounded. Viewers' nostalgia for a city that has entered the 21st century since the era Hopper depicted is mistakenly projected onto this image, whose power lies in its ubiquity.
The diner in the painting is probably not only a physical composite of street fronts, sidewalks, windows, and people, but also an emotional composite — one that evokes an atmosphere that reverberates universally and could never be duplicated, even when sitting in the diner, gripping a cup of coffee, looking on to a darkened empty street.
Hopper trained under Robert Henri, 1900-06, and between 1906 and 1910 made three trips to Europe, though these had little influence on his style. Hopper exhibited at the Armoury Show in 1913, but from then until 1923 he abandoned painting, earning his living by commercial illustration.
Thereafter, however, he gained widespread recognition as a central exponent of American Scene painting, expressing the loneliness, vacuity, and stagnation of town life. Yet Hopper remained always an individualist: `I don't think I ever tried to paint the American scene; I'm trying to paint myself.'
Paintings such as Nighthawks (Art Institute of Chicago, 1942) convey a mood of loneliness and desolation by their emptiness or by the presence of anonymous, non-communicating figures.
But of this picture Hopper said: `I didn't see it as particularly lonely... Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.'
Deliberately so or not, in his still, reserved, and blandly handled paintings Hopper often exerts a powerful psychological impact -- distantly akin to that made by the Metaphysical painter de Chirico.
But while de Chirico's effect was obtained by making the unreal seem real, Hopper's was rooted in the presentation of the familiar and concrete.
Edward Hopper painted American landscapes and cityscapes with a disturbing truth, expressing the world around him as a chilling, alienating, and often vacuous place.
Everybody in a Hopper picture appears terribly alone. Hopper soon gained a widespread reputation as the artist who gave visual form to the loneliness and boredom of life in the big city. This was something new in art, perhaps an expression of the sense of human hopelessness that characterized the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Edward Hopper has something of the lonely gravity peculiar to Thomas Eakins, a courageous fidelity to life as he feels it to be. He also shares Winslow Homer's power to recall the feel of things. For Hopper, this feel is insistently low-key and ruminative.
He shows the modern world unflinchingly; even its gaieties are gently mournful, echoing the disillusionment that swept across the country after the start of the Great Depression in 1929.
Cape Cod Evening (shown here, 1939, National Gallery, Washinton) should be idyllic, and in a way it is.
The couple enjoy the evening sunshine outside their home, yet they are a couple only technically and the enjoyment is wholly passive as both are isolated and introspective in their reveries.
Their house is closed to intimacy, the door firmly shut and the windows covered. The dog is the only alert creature, but even it turns away from the house. The thick, sinister trees tap on the window panes, but there will be no answer.
courtesy, Hannah Harris, New York