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From Jacksonville Beach, FL

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Living with "Nighthawks"

"Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper on a poster.
(click on all  photos to enlarge)

        Every day for the past 25 years, except when traveling, I've seen "Nighthawks" perched on the wall over my desk.  Since I use my computer several times every day, I see it more than once, yet I've never tired of it.  My copy is a framed Art Institute of Chicago poster featuring the Edward Hopper painting.  "Nighthawks" has lived at the Art Institute since a few months after its completion in 1942.  The Institute bought it for $3000.  Today, its value is priceless. It is Hooper's most popular and famous painting.  
         I can't say why its appeal has been so lasting for me.  It's stark, plain lines, colors, mood,
I'm not sure.  The emptiness and loneliness of modern life is a theme in many of Hopper's works.  He did say once referring to "Nighthawks," "unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city."
       Through the years, I've also come across several parodies of the painting.  The most well-known is Gottfried Helnwein's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams," featuring Hollywood icons Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart and Elvis Presley as replacement  figures in the original.  I have a large copy of that one too.  It hangs in a small foyer next to my dining room.  I've had it since my husband and I purchased it in New Orleans in 1989.  I've never tired of it either.  
                                             Helnwein's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"
                                                           (click on photo to enlarge)
     Hopper scholar Gail Levin says that Helnwein is comparing the tragic lives of the four actors with the bleak mood of "Nighthawks."  Many other paintings, literature, film, music and
even television have used "Nighthawks" as inspiration.  The blog "Nighthawks Forever", created in 2005, provides links to the continuously growing number of parodies and homages to the painting.  
    I also have a "New Yorker" cover from 2000, that features figures in the same diner on New Year's Eve.
                                                       "Nighthawks" on New Year's Eve

     This parody adds a clock on the wall showing a few minutes until midnight.  A few years ago, I found a Christmas card depicting the diner scene.  Naturally, that was my card to send out that year.
                                                        Santa as nighthawk   

     Two explanations have been offered as reasons for the name of the painting.  Nighthawks
is a description of people who like to stay up late as the bird the nighthawk does.  This seems the most logical explanation to me.  The characters are up after the streets are empty and the diner almost empty.  Another reason given for the title is that the man sitting with the woman has a very hawklike nose.  That explanation doesn't cut it for me.  It gives no meaning to the other characters.  
    The diner itself is a copy of one that was in Greenwich Village in New York near Hopper's own neighborhood.  That restaurant has since been demolished.  A replica of the diner has been used as a set in several movies, most notably "Pennies from Heaven" (1981), "The End of Violence" (1997), and several others.  In the 2009 film "Night at the Museum:  Battle of the Smithsonian,"  "Nighthawks" is one of the artworks brought to life.  Check "Nighthawks" for descriptions of its use in almost all the arts.
     I'm always looking for other examples and parodies.  

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