When Hopper studied painting and illustration at the New York Institute of Art and Design, he was taught by the artist Robert Henri who taught him to show realistic depictions of urban life, and encouraged his students to "make a stir in the world." Henri became a big influence on Hopper from then on.
Edward Hopper made many trips to Europe to study the current art there. Modern art was new at this time and was a new approach to art which placed emphasis on representing emotions, themes, and various abstractions. Artists experimented with new ways of seeing, with fresh ideas about the nature of materials and functions of art, often moving further toward abstraction. Fauvism, Cubism, Expressionism and Futurism where other movements that were flourishing at this period of time. World War I brought about artist groups such as Bauhaus which was influential in the development of new ideas about the connection of the arts, architecture, design and art education. Although these movements were popular with many of his fellow artists at this time, including Abstract Expressionism, Hopper instead became influenced by the idealism and detail of the realist painters within the surrounding of American post-war culture. This influence is shown in his earlier works which have an emphasis on colour and shape. This painting to the right is an earlier work by Hopper called "The El Station" (1908)
It looks as if modern techniques are present in his works. The style of his painting Morning in the City (left) has a suggestion of Impressionism. The outlines of the buildings and their windows are too odd and bold to be realism. Also, the heavy gesture of the figure and the way the bedroom walls have been painted are purposely expressionistic. As a whole, the woman's room seems more affected by subtle abstraction than the world outside the window, which could be suggesting a hidden emotional imbalance within her world.
The modern techniques which are mentioned above are visible throughout his work. It shows that he has a knowledge of contemporary new methods and even a subtle technical skill. However, they are added features to subjective meaning and are not formal experiments in Impressionism or Expressionism. A sense of Expressionism surrounds each setting with a mood that seems to appear from the nature of his figures or objects, but the method stays focused around the narrative of a picture rather than the way Hopper has painted them.
This well-known painting by Hopper, Automat (1927), shows a lonesome woman holding a cup of coffee in an empty cafe. It uses clear visual language that uses one of the most repeated themes found throughout modern art movements: solipsistic isolation. He has used an expressionistic abstraction and discoloration to build up the surroundings of loneliness and sort of ignores the fact that the person is suffering of some sort...the effect is emotional.
In 1941 was the attack on Pearl Harbour. Edward Hopper began to paint "Nighthawks", shown below, straight after it. After the event of Pearl Harbour, there was a feeling of unhappiness in the United States. Hopper included this feeling in the painting. It could also be believed that the Great Depression in the 1930's were expressed in Hoppers paintings too.
Nighthawks (1942) is one of Hoppers most famous paintings and one of the most recognisable in American art. It shows people sitting in a diner late at night. The scene was inspired by a diner in Greenwich Village, Hopper's home town in Manhattan. The street outside the diner is empty, and the people inside are not looking or even talking to each other. It's like they're lost in their own thoughts. Maybe Hopper was painting the emptiness of an urban city in this painting.
The common theme of Hoppers work, emptiness and loneliness in modern urban life, is obvious in this work. The man with his back to us appears more lonely because of the couple sitting next to him. If you look close at the painting, there is no way out of the bar area because the walls of the counter form a triangle which traps the attendant. The diner also has no door leading outside, which gives the idea of confinement and being trapped.
Hoppers influence is undeniable, and can be seen ranging from not only the art world (he influenced Pop Art and the new realists of the 1960's and 1970's), but also the pop culture and even into contemporary issues which is seen in tributes to Nighthawks using modern icons such as James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. The diner and the people from Nighthawkes were also recreated in Dario Argento's 1976 film 'Deep Red'.
One of the photorealists Hopper influenced was Ralph Goings, who used used Nighthawkes in several paintings of diners.
One of the Imagists, Roger Brown, included a view into a corner cafe in his painting Puerto Rican Wedding (1969), which was a stylized night time street scene. Brown said that it "isn't set up like an imitation of Nighthawks, but still refers to it very much."
Nighthawkes has also been used in television series such as The Simpson's, That 70's Show and Dead Like Me.