Edward Hopper: Drawing Nighthawks

Edward Hopper, Study for Nighthawks (verso), 1941 or 1942, fabricated chalk on p
Edward Hopper, Study for Nighthawks (verso), 1941 or 1942, fabricated chalk on paper, 8 7/16 x 11 inches (courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art)

Reviewing the exhibition Edward Hopper: Drawing at the Whitney Museum of Art (through October 6), Robin Cembalest takes a closer look at Hopper's preparatory drawings for his iconic painting Nighthawks (1942).

Cembalest notes: "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 Nighthawks drawings reveal 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. The diner first emerges in a compositional study with just a few slightly diagonal lines intersected by short verticals—just the essence of the painting’s spatial conception. But also present is a serpentine leg of one of the coffee urns, in the upper center. 'This marvelous demonstration of both extreme specificity and near abstract compositional summation on the same surface beguilingly reflects how empirical observation and imagination coexisted in Hopper’s head,' curator Carter E. Foster writes in the catalogue."