“WHERE was Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” set?”
For many years, that question has been lingering somewhere in the back of my mind. Every day, as I walk around the City, any time I see a triangular corner, I wonder, “Could THIS be it?” The excellent website, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York did a 4 part series analyzing each and every possible location they could find, which is, still, the most thorough search I know of. Part one is here.
It could well be a place Hopper imagined. It could be based on a few different locations. Or, it could be a place that is now long gone. But? Many other Hoppers were painted in places well known, even all these years later. Some years ago, I spent the night in a small hotel in Cape Cod solely because Hopper had Painted it in a work called “Rooms for Tourists.” Being one, and looking for a place to stay, I immediately recognized it- it still looked exactly like the Painting. Gail Levin’s book, “Hopper’s Places,” revisits many of these places, and so, makes me feel that the locale of “Nighthawks” MUST exist.
In 2013, at the time of their excellent “Hopper Drawing” show, (which included the original “Nighthawks”) the Whitney Museum said the following on a wall card-
“A resident of Lower Manhattan for most of his adult life, Hopper was certainly familiar with the Flatiron Building. The unique curve and dramatic glass facade of the “Nighthawks” diner has led art historians to cite the building’s prow as one of Hopper’s architectural inspirations for the iconic building.”
“Well I don’t really care
If it’s wrong or if it’s right
But until my ship comes in
I’ll live night by night.”*
So, for Banner #8, I chose this scene because it’s one block north of the “Prow” of the Flatiron Building (speaking of “ships”), at the corners of 23rd Street and Broadway and 5th Avenue. I’ve opted to move “Eddie’s Cafe,” to just off of Madison Square Park, looking east across it from 5th Avenue at West 24th Street. You can see the New York Life Building, at 51 Madison Avenue, with it’s famous gold pyramid, left, the Metropolitan Life North Building, a very cool 30 story Art Deco geometric abstraction at 11 Madison Avenue, center, and the Met Life Tower, right, the world’s tallest building from 1909 to 1913.
If they’re right about the Flatiron, this scene would have been just out of the frame of the Painting to the left. I picked it because all of these buildings were standing when Hopper painted “Nighthawks” in 1941-2 (except that rectangular, mostly dark, building immediately behind my head to the left.) The buildings behind the cafe in the Painting are long gone and what’s there now appears to have been moved further back from where they are in the Painting.
So? It’s as close as I could get to setting “Nighthawks,” now, with buildings that were standing when Edward Hopper Painted “Nighthawks,” a block away…IF he was using the Flatiron’s Prow as the scene. It becomes a window back to that time.
Personally, I remain to be convinced about the Flatiron. The “Prow” is too small to have housed an actual cafe, so that means it would have been one of his inspirations. So, I remain hopeful that an actual place will be discovered at long last, though I’m not expectant. Until that ship comes in, I’ll do what I always do- live night by night…
*- Soundtrack for this Post is “Night By Night,” by Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker (R.I.P. September 3, 2017) of Steely Dan and recorded on “Pretzel Logic,” 1974.
This Post was created by Kenn Sava for nighthawknyc.com
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