Edward Hopper. Nighthawks, 1942. The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection.
Edward Hopper. Nighthawks, 1942. The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection.

15 Things You Might Not Know About Nighthawks

Edward Hopper. Nighthawks, 1942. The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection.
Edward Hopper. Nighthawks, 1942. The Art Institute of Chicago, Friends of American Art Collection.

The quiet night scene of Edward Hopper’s most renowned painting sticks in the mind of anyone who sees it and feels familiar to anyone who’s taken an art history class. It may seem straightforward, but this deceptively simple piece holds a lot of secrets. 

1. HOPPER’S WIFE WAS ITS first art historian.

Josephine Hopper (née Nivison) oversaw a shared journal, where she and her husband took notes on his paintings. This is how we know the precise date of Nighthawks' completion (January 21, 1942), and various other details, like that the painting was originally titled Night Hawks

2. Nighthawks was an instant classic. 

When Daniel Catton Rich, director of the Art Institute of Chicago, first laid eyes on the painting a few short months after Hopper put on the final touches, he declared it was as "fine as Homer"—referencing the 19th century American landscape painter. 

Rich was quick to purchase Nighthawks for the Art Institute for $3000 ($43,200.37 adjusting for inflation). The Hopper classic is still on display in the Institute’s galleries. 

3. It's bigger than you MIGHT expect. 

A quiet scene that could be the beginning or end of a million different stories, Nighthawks seems like it might be a small painting like the Mona Lisa. But in fact, it measures 33 1/8 inches by 60 inches,  roughly 2.75 feet by 5 feet. 

4. The TITLE Nighthawks may have been A NOD TO one of the diner's patrons. 

In Josephine's notes, she wrote a description of one of the customers: "Man night hawk (beak) in dark suit, steel grey hat, black band, blue shirt (clean) holding cigarette." This note suggests that the prominent nose of this patron makes the painting’s title a bit more literal.  

5. Both Edward and Josephine Hopper were models for Nighthawks. 

In a letter to his sister Marion, Josephine shared, "Ed has just finished a very fine picture—a lunch counter at night with 3 figures. Night Hawks would be a fine name for it. E. posed for the two men in a mirror and I for the girl. He was about a month and half working on it."

6. Hopper storyboarded the painting ahead of Nighthawks' creation.

Hopper became an avid sketch artist when he was just 10 years old, and as an adult he could often be found prowling the streets of New York, sketch pad and pencil in hand. While sketches are often the first step for a painting's creation, Hopper took it a step further by sketching storyboards to pick the precise moments he wanted to immortalize in the final painting. A 2013 exhibition at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art displayed 200 Hopper sketches, including 19 that led to Nighthawks, clearly laying out the work's evolution. 


Noted Hopper biographer Gail Levin has said, "Nighthawks was inspired by Hemingway's short story 'The Killers,' which Hopper read in Scribner's magazine and liked so much when it first came out, that he wrote a fan letter to Scribner's. He said that this writer was so much better than the rest and it was unusual that it wasn't sentimental or saccharin like so many stories. But that short story has the sense of something about to happen, and it never does. In a sense, Hopper's paintings are just like that. So that enables writers and filmmakers–fiction writers and poets, and other artists, perhaps too–to project their own imagination…and the viewer in general." 

8. There may be some influence from Van Gogh's Café At Night. 

Based on the similar theme and concentration on the play of light at night, Levin has also proposed that the famous Vincent Van Gogh piece may have sparked ideas in Hopper. Interestingly, Café at Night was exhibited in New York in January of 1942, right as Hopper was working on Nighthawks. It's probable that Hopper would have seen Van Gogh’s painting, as his own works were also on display at the same venue. 

9. A popular reading of the piece focuses on "wartime isolation." 

Its characters are separated from the outside world by the light and windows Hopper carefully rendered. There's no door shown that would allow the viewer conceivable entrance into this lonely nighttime world. And even in their shared space, the characters are close without touching. Painted right after the American entry into World War II, Nighthawks can be seen as an illustration of the chilling effects of that world-changing conflict.

10. But For Hopper, it was about feeling alone in a crowd. 

Many of the artist’s works reflected the isolation that could be felt amid the bustle of New York City. Of Nighthawks, the New York native said, "Unconsciously, probably, I was painting the loneliness of a large city.”

11. The diner's flUorescent light MADE HOPPER’S JOB TRICKIER.

In the early 1940s, commercial use of fluorescent lighting was still a relatively new phenomenon. To properly capture its luminance, Hopper experimented with a zinc white paint instead of a lead white one. However, in a lengthy interview recorded on June 17, 1959, Hopper explained how the zinc white ultimately cracked, demanding a renovation where it was replaced by the lead white. Because of this bad experience, Hopper never used zinc white again. 

12. Hopper claimed THE Nighthawks diner was based on a real place. 

He was cagey about naming the actual eatery, though. His only clue: "[Nighthawks] was suggested by a restaurant on New York’s Greenwich Avenue where two streets meet." 

13. The actual location of this inspiration is a matter of debate. 

Popular opinion favors Mulry Square, a small triangular lot at Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue. However, historical records show that a gas station occupied the lot in the early 1940s, not a diner. 

In 2014, a restaurant on Greenwich Street declared itself Nighthawks' inspiration after a Chicago native wandered in and noted the similarities between the place's layout and the famous painting. This is how Classic's Café at 679 Greenwich Street came to change its name to Nighthawks. 

14. The Nighthawks diner is likely an amalgamation OF SEVERAL SPOTS. 

In May 2013, New York Magazine set out to track down the real inspiration for Nighthawks, scouring streets and historical photographs to settle the discussion once and for all. They ultimately determined Hopper's picture-perfect diner was made up of various elements of Manhattan architecture. These components include a glass-and-steel storefront on 11th Street, the curve of the Flatiron Building, and a long-gone restaurant called Crawford Lunch. Fittingly, a 3D version of Nighthawks was created within a display window of the Flatiron Building in the summer of 2013.

15. Nighthawks has inspired countless other artists. 

As one of the most iconic works in the history of American art, Nighthawks has popped up throughout pop culture. In the fine arts, you can see its inspiration in George Segal's sculpture The Diner, Roger Brown's painting Puerto Rican Wedding, Banksy's Nighthawks and Gottfried's Helnwein's Boulevard of Broken Dreams, which populated Phillie's diner with tragic celebrities like James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. 

Poet Wolf Wondratschek and novelist Joyce Carol Oates both wrote works named for Nighthawks. American singer-songwriter Tom Waits named his 1975 album Nighthawks at the Diner and threw his own spin on the painting by placing himself in a similar scenario on the record's cover. Nighthawks classic scene is alluded to in films like Dario Argento's Deep Red, Wim Wenders’s The End of Violence, James Foley's Glengarry Glen Ross, and Herbert Ross' Pennies From Heaven. Plus it influenced the aesthetic of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Alex Proyas' Dark City.

Evening Standard/Getty Images
Pop Culture
Stanley Kubrick Photography Exhibition Opening at the Museum of the City of New York
Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Stanley Kubrick will forever be known as one of the most important film directors of the 20th century, but he started his career in the 1940s as a photojournalist for Look magazine. Now, the Museum of the City of New York will host a photographic exhibition of Kubrick’s early work, featuring 120 pictures from his time as a staff photographer at Look from 1945 to 1950.

Much of Kubrick’s work at the time revolved around daily life in New York City—the clubs, the commutes, and the sports. Some of his most notable pieces while at Look were his photo features on boxers Rocky Graziano and Walter Cartier, the latter of which became the subject of Kubrick’s first film, a 1951 documentary called Day of the Fight.

“Turning his camera on his native city, Kubrick found inspiration in New York's characters and settings, sometimes glamorous, sometimes gritty,” the museum wrote in a press release. “He produced work that was far ahead of his time and focused on themes that would inspire him through his creative life. Most importantly, his photography laid the technical and aesthetic foundations for his cinematography: he learned through the camera's lens to be an acute observer of human interactions and to tell stories through images in dynamic narrative sequences.”

Titled "Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs," the exhibition will detail the different themes that inspired Kubrick’s work, as well as guide patrons through his Look tenure, including both published and unpublished work. One of the exhibit’s goals is to provide an “examination of the direct connection between Kubrick the photographer and Kubrick the director.”

"Through a Different Lens" runs from Thursday, May 3 through October 28, 2018 at the Museum of the City of New York.

8 Expert Tips and Tricks for Hanging a Picture Right the First Time

Framed pictures are an inexpensive way to make a house feel like a home, and they can take a room from empty to finished-looking in minutes. They can be customized easily to your space and decor, and swapped out if your tastes change. But there is an art to hanging a picture the right way—without destroying your walls. Here’s what you need to know.


There are several steps you need to take before you get anywhere near a drill or hammer. First, consider two factors: the state of the wall you want to decorate, and the weight of the picture. Your wall may be supported by studs, which are pieces of wood or metal that run vertically behind the wall every couple of feet. Screwing directly into a stud can provide more support for hanging items.

If you have a reinforced wall, you could use a basic nail or screw to hang the frame, as long as you insert the nail or screw firmly into a stud. But you should only ever use a nail if you're hanging on a stud, according to Simon Taylor, owner-operator of T&C Carpentry in Whitby, Ontario. Otherwise, the weight of the picture could rip the nail out of the wall.

No stud? No problem. "If the picture is light, then a product like Monkey Hooks"—a kind of cantilevered hook for unreinforced walls—"work great," Taylor says.

For medium to heavy pictures, use wall anchors, which are plastic or metal inserts that provide more support for screwing into an unreinforced wall. There are many styles and strengths available for different materials and weights. “Using a product like E-Z Ancors is an easy way to fix a screw to drywall where there is no stud to screw into. They are strong and easy to install,” Taylor tells Mental Floss. “You can then thread a screw into them to hang your picture, providing it has a hook on the back or a string. A good rule to follow is not to use anything other than an anchor if you are not screwing directly into a stud or backing.” (Plastic wall anchors are fine for most lightweight projects, but for a really heavy picture, or a wall made out of something besides drywall, you'll need a different type of anchor.)

If you’re renting and don't want to damage the walls of your apartment, or you’re not 100 percent committed to the picture's placement, Taylor recommends a non-nail option like the extremely popular 3M Command adhesive hooks. They provide temporary, hole-free hanging and hold strong without peeling paint off the wall when it comes time to remove them.

Others argue that stick-on hooks can be unreliable, especially for heavier frames. “All picture-hanging hardware should really include some type of component that punctures the wall,” says Claire Wheeler, design and project coordinator for Montreal-based Sajo Inc. “This provides a much more secure hanging system than a hanging system that is surface-applied.” The adhesives on these types of products are more likely to fail than any sort of nail or anchored hardware, she tells Mental Floss.


Wheeler says your hanging hardware depends on the size and weight of the frame. Fortunately, most frame manufacturers include some form of hanger on the back of their products.

While she finds that hook tabs (small triangular hangers on ready-to-use frames) work for hanging lighter pictures, a wire system—two anchor points on the back of the frame and a strong wire strung between them for looping over the wall screw or hook—is the better choice for hanging large and/or heavy pictures. The wire system setup allows the weight of the frame to be distributed evenly along the wire for more secure hanging, rather than placing all the weight of the frame on one small hanger point.

“You will notice that most frames, whether you have purchased them in a store or you've had them custom-made, have hardware already installed at the back. It’s usually a pretty safe bet to use what the manufacturer has provided,” Wheeler says.

To hang a picture without the need for advanced math, start with a center hanging point: a hook tab affixed in the appropriate spot, or, if your frame has two tabs on either side of the frame, a wire strung slackly between them.


Assemble all of the gear before you spring into action. In addition to your framed artwork, you'll need the proper hanging apparatus for your project (see #1) and a hammer for pounding in the wall anchor or nail. Use a power drill or screwdriver to insert screws in the wall anchor, if you're using one. A tape measure makes it easier to calculate the right spot for hanging. A sturdy wire for the back of your frame is optional (see #2). And the best way to ensure your picture will be level is to, well, use a level. “A level is a basic tool everyone should have,” Wheeler says. “If you own a hammer, you should own a level.”


Wheeler says you should play around with the height at which you plan on installing the frame: “As a general rule, eye level should land within the bottom half of the frame,” she says.

From a designer’s perspective, Wheeler finds people often choose pictures that are either too big or too small in proportion to the wall area. “You want the picture to have some space to 'breathe,' so to speak, meaning a wall large enough that it doesn’t feel as though the picture is overcrowding the wall," she says. "On the flip side, you also don’t want a picture to look completely lost on a big wall."

She adds, "Proportion is important, but there’s no specific ratio" of picture size to wall area that could be considered a rule of thumb. Ultimately, you're the best judge of your space.


Place the frame against the wall where you want it to hang. "It’s a good idea to have someone with you to judge if it is in the right place," Taylor says. "Having a view of it in place before it’s 'fixed' to the wall will help you decide if it looks right."

After you've picked your spot, draw a short line with a pencil along the center of the frame's top edge as your reference line. If you're hanging a really large picture, get your assistant to hold it in place while you draw.


Lay the frame face-down on a flat surface. Place your wall fastener, such as the wall anchor or Command hook, in the appropriate hook tab or on the wire on the back of the frame and pull the wire taut. With a tape measure, measure the distance from the top edge of the frame to the center of the fastener.


Now back to the wall: Measure the same distance from the center of your penciled reference line down. Mark that spot with your pencil: That's where you're going to install your fastener.

If you're not using a wall anchor, simply affix an adhesive hook, hammer in a nail, or insert a Monkey Hook.

To install an anchor, drill a hole into the wall at the penciled point with a screw that is narrower than the anchor itself. (You don't want the anchor to be too loose in the wall.) Don't screw it too tightly. Next, reverse the drill's direction and pull the screw out. Insert the anchor, hammering it flush against the wall. Finally, drill the screw into the anchor—this action makes the anchor expand slightly and press against the drywall's innards, creating a more secure fit. Be sure to leave a bit of space between the screw's head and the wall so the picture's wire can be hooked over the screw. Hang the picture.


To make sure your picture is straight, rest the level along the top of the frame, against the wall. Then, adjust until the air bubble within the small tube of water is in the center of the tube, which indicates that the bar is parallel to the floor—and, therefore, that your picture is level.

Taylor says that not using a level and assuming the hanging hardware is set evenly on the back of a frame are the two biggest mistakes he sees people make. Pros often use laser levels, but Taylor says a water level will work just as well for most people.

Need some inspirations to get started? Consider hanging a few classic movie posters, printed patents for famed inventions, or a guide to cats.


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